England (perhaps London) isms.

I know that  many, especially many of the Australians who might read this have been to, worked in or even lived in the UK. There are probably few cultural surprises lurking around corners, when compared to say: China. And as an expat Australian who made the choice to move here I do have to sometimes remind myself that I am in fact in a country other than the one I was born and raised in.
That said, there are some funny little differences that I’ve noticed, so, for your amusement and my own, here are a few.

1: People rarely knock on doors.

I have been told this might just be a ‘London’ thing, but delivery people, the post, surveys, Mormons… They don’t knock per se –  they do this weird thing where they rattle the metal letter slot in the door, sort of poke at it, give it a shake and hope that whoever is in the house hears it. A lot of houses in London, at least houses in my rental price range are smallish and so if the house is quiet, you do hear the slot-rattle most of the time. But if perchance you have music on, or headphones on, or just the TV volume up loud, you can easily miss it.  This odd quirk has started to irritate me, for as I am a lover of loud music, loud TV, loud video games and in summer, sitting in my small British garden with headphones on, the ritual of turning off said sound and straining to hear ‘Was that someone at the door or not’ has now got me muttering as I stomp to the door to check: “Just knock on the fucking door”….

2: The Phone manner of Service people, govt and private sector  is really bad.

Very often in England when i’ve had to engage with people on the phone the conversation begins like this:
Service person: “Hello, you’re through to XYZ, how can I help you today?”
Me:” Hi, this is  XYZ calling, How are you?”
*tumbleweeds*… awkward silence….
Me: “Um, ok, well, I was wondering if……”
As much as everyone likes to hate on people who work on helplines, even on some of the worst help lines in Australia (For Australians, think Centerlink…) When you ask someone ‘how they are’, they will usually tell you, and ask in return. The conversation starts in a cheery way and a small amount of rapport is established. I’ve actually had a laugh with debt collectors on the phone in Australia, (I’m sure this is out of the ordinary.) But in England? Very rarely…  The notable exception seems to be when you get a Scot on the line. I’ve had the joy of having to deal a lot with British Revenue and Customs (The UK’s Tax office) over the last few months and whenever I’ve had a Scot on the phone they have been without fail easy to talk to, helpful and happy to have a laugh.

3: In work situations people tend to be in their ‘professional’ shell.

 It could just be a peculiarity of the place I’ve been working for the last few months –  but adults calling each other ‘sir’ and ‘miss’  – despite the fact that sure, we all work in a school – just seems really weird and impersonal to me. It was a personal pet project of mine over the last few month to get people to start using each other’s first names, and I made it a point to do so the majority of the time.
My humour too seemed somehow out of place in the staff room situation. Perhaps it’s the hint of the supposed antipodean  irreverence I apparently must have, or the fact that  I feel that ‘down time’ at work is really ‘down time’ and a time where colleagues can lower their suit-and-tie armour a little and have a laugh. Yet people seemed genuinely unwilling to actually engage for quite a long time and it took several months for the walls to come down.

We can laugh about the job, even mock the job, while doing and being excellent at the job.

4: Putting Tomato sauce on Sausage Rolls is apparently unusual.

Speaks for itself:  the shocked looks and comments uttered from my roommates when they first encountered this display of colonial barbarity were my introduction to this odd bit of Britishness. Further research is needed as I have encountered some Brits who has admitted to doing this, though the semi-hushed tones in which they made this admission lends me to believe that they may have also butted heads with this apparent food faux-pas. I have also been told that this might be a ‘northern’ thing, the differences between north and south are an essay in themselves.


5: There are loads of ‘panel discussion/variety’ shows on prime time TV.

For sport, entertainment, cooking, more sport, comedy,more entertainment, and more of the same. Not only that, people watch them, a lot and everyone knows the names of the hosts. These shows exist in other places of course, and some of them become quite popular, but the sheer number and regularity of them in Britain is impressive.

6: It’s no where near as expensive as people think it is.

I encounter this a lot; British people assuming Australia is wonderfully cheap, and Australians thinking Britain and London are horrendously expensive.  In fact the complete opposite is true in both cases. There are regional variations of course, certain things in one country are more expensive or cheaper than the other, You won’t be finding any £1 bottles of wine in London for example (If someone does, could they let me know? Thanks). But as a general rule Britain is a lot cheaper than Australia, both for services and general stuff. Neither side believes me of course until someone who – like me – has had recent experience of living in both countries joins the conversation and verifies the idea.

7: British pubs are fantastic.

Pretty much self explanatory, they are a good place to hang out, they look – for the most part – exactly what you would think a ‘British’ pub should look like. They have open fireplaces in winter, they sell local and international beers and drinks – The British are quite proud and supportive of their local brewers (and with good reason, their local brews that I have sampled are fantastic) and pubs in neighbouring suburbs may often have quite different selections on offer depending on which brewer they are supporting.  Many pubs, in London particularly are hundreds of years old, which somehow adds to their awesomeness, and wandering around I am constantly struck by the urge to ‘try out’ each new cool looking pub that I find.

8: British people can be insufferably conformist.

I have never felt more ‘unusual’ ‘eccentric’ or ‘weird’ than I do when living in London. The music I like is weird, the attitudes I have are weird, the things I find funny, interesting, stupid and the things I say are all very often ‘weird’.  The fact I might not wear shoes out, weird, humour, weird, I’m just weird weird weird.
Of course, Its rubbish, I’ve spent a good deal of my time whilst country-hopping around British people who are just as ‘weird’ as me, (sometimes weirder) –  So I wonder if it’s just a thing that happens when they are all in one place  –  a conformity to what is ‘normal’ here. Kind of like being a guy in Australia and not giving a shit about Rugby League (can’t call it ‘football’ here). Still, anecdotally at least I’ve found Australians at home to be more open to certain diversities than London British, and indeed, it could just be a ‘London’ British thing as Britain is also extremely regional. This is an observation in progress of course, and I look forward to being pleasantly proven wrong.


~ by benephobia on July 26, 2013.

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