An American Acclimating in London (Settling into the UK)

I never had an inclination to live in London, but I fell in love with a British gentleman and arrived as a “trailing spouse,” which explains my move perfectly. I visited for two and a half months during the previous summer, and the experience was OK – but I completely failed to see why so many people love London. So, here is the partial progress of an American acclimating in London. It’s supposed to be posh and sophisticated, but I found it soulless with its inhabitants constantly clad in funeral-type colo(u)rs. The continual conversation about the weather was easy to follow; Wisconsinites and my parents talk about it all the time… But they do tend to go on for a few more sentences than other cultures do.

In an attempt to cheer me up, J asked all of his friends what they thought was special about London. So, with permission to toot their own horn, Brits claimed, “It’s the most multicultural city in the world.”  They would quote different languages that they hear and different foods that are available to try, but the community as a whole doesn’t seem multicultural. There is still strong homogeneity among the population with segregated groups of different cultures that happen to sell their traditional foods. And even as I am adapting, I still cringe at some of my American counterparts abroad. (So does that mean I just don’t like anybody?)

Still in an attempt to process my own experiences here, I created my own slogan for London – to replace the tired one from Samuel Johnson, who declared, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” (That’s old news. He said that in 1777.)

The unflattering tagline I created for London is “Drab as a scab.”

I imagine it will take a great many years to have London feel like home, but I am slowly acclimating.* (Acclimatizing, acclimatising… Yeah, I understand Brits like to throw in the extra syllables and change the z’s to s’s, and that they enjoy nit-picking “English” spelling, which is pretty tiresome since both versions are technically correct.)

While lots of adjusting seems to involve losing excitement about certain “special aspects of London” (seeing the Union Jack, red buses and red telephone boxes), life is starting to feel normal here – just not particularly enviable.

Now, When Conversing with the Locals, I…

  • Accept “cheers” or “tar” as a valid variant of “thank you”
  • Resolve to learn degrees Celsius and other metric measurements
  • Use the words “quite” and “rather” frequently instead of “very” and “really”
  • Consider saying “brilliant,” though I still decide to use “great”
  • Expect slow service at publicly funded institutions (Jobs Centre, National Health Service, etc.), but know to shove my groceries in my bag at hyper-speed when checking out of a Tesco’s, etc.
  • Realize that most locals’ American accents are way more atrocious (border-line offensive, even) than my attempt at a British accent

Now, When On Public Transportation, I…

  • Always grip onto bus railings for dear life since the jerky driving makes descending the stairs feel perilous — like I’m about to topple down them
  • Understand that the Rail, Tube, Overground and DLR are all distinct and am confident tapping in and out with my transportation (Oyster) card
  • Don’t panic when announcements instruct me to change platforms for a service
  • Don’t sweat if I’m late to work – because I can legitimately blame the rail or tube service for running late

Now, When Out & About, I…

  • Stop mentally filling “TO LET” signs with an “I” (TOILET) because the USA advertises “FOR RENT”
  • Expect the public restrooms to charge 20 or 50p; nothing is for free in London
  • Enjoy “sales tax” having been already included in the price
  • Grab the free publications, but stop gawking at ugly merchandise (in Stylist) that would cost half a month of my salary
  • Always bring an umbrella
  • Tune into American accents and wonder if the tourists (or ex-pats?) are semi-shouting to let the rest of London know they are from the States…
  • Appreciate when I pass someone on the street smiles and makes eye contact

Now, In General, I…

  • Expect to look frumpy and dowdy in 99% of British clothes
  • Don’t expect to enjoy meat flavored “crisps” (potato chips); they’re all “rubbish.”

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