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How To Live In Britain When You’re An American

Without getting your head kicked in

Being the bright-eyed and devastatingly uncool Britophile/Shakespeare nerd that I am, leaving North America for London was pretty much my dream from age six onwards. But, as with so many childhood obsessions, the reality I’m living is vastly different from the one I’d imagined. Now, my life is more about queues, being constantly 100 percent lost and almost getting hit by buses travelling 400mph on the wrong side of the road than it is having my naked body wrapped in a Union Jack flag by some snotty hybrid of young Malcolm McDowell and Spike from Buffy.

All the food is beige, the underground system is ludicrously hot all year-round and culture shock turned out to be a very real, very disorienting thing. I wish some wizened ex-pat had taken me by the hand pre-flight and explained to me how OK it was to be falling-down drunk at work functions, why Friends is constantly on television, the concept of “dogging”, what Cheryl Cole’s whole deal is and about four million other uniquely British phenomena that have been slowly revealed to me over my time in the country. Below I have outlined a few things aspiring expats should know before making the leap across the pond.

NEVER SAY THE PHRASE “ACROSS THE POND”
It sucks so hard. Your worst uncle will use this expression to ask you how things are going at Christmas. Tell him “jolly good” and then do not speak to him for the rest of the night/his life.

NB: Loud conversations in the pub about the fact that you call the outerwear on your legs “pants” and they call them “trousers” – yeah, don’t have these.

TONE IT DOWN
Whatever you’re doing at the moment, no matter how much you may or may not already consider it a toned down version of your regular self, you are about 12-times “too much” for England. Too loud, too crass, too overtly sexual, too prude, too politically incorrect, too sensitive about the weird, overly-familiar nicknames old guys give to any woman – regardless of any pre-existing relationship – too ignorant, too show off-y about your intelligence – just toooo much, generally. Chill out and shut up a bit until you get a feel for how people are.

That said, you’ll probably never really figure it out because, believe it or not, a gigantic country’s culture is not reducible to a short series of general truths. (Except for in this article, which is 100 percent accurate in every conceivable way.)

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