Things Are Different Here
The British culture and way of life (although influenced by the American presence during World War II and by Hollywood movies) is very much different than American culture, in a number of ways.
Britain is a very dynamic country. Due to its location, it serves as a crossroads for much of the world, and due to its former Empire, it finds itself (especially London) a very cosmopolitan place. If you travel through Heathrow Airport, for example, you will see colorful peoples from all over the world.
Britain is also probably one of the safest and most democratic countries in the world. Generally speaking, neither the police nor the people carry guns, and violent crime involving guns is relatively rare. However, some police are armed, but not your regular “Bobbies on the beat” (who just carry truncheons, known in the U.S. as billy clubs). The British people, however, are not totally without guns, just hand guns. Other types of guns, such as rifles and shotguns, are allowed, just as they are in the U.S.
One of the first things you may notice about Britain is just how small and compact everything is. Britain, as a whole, would fit just inside the state of California, yet it has a population of over 59 million (versus California’s population of 37 million). This can make certain areas (especially the towns and cities, and the beaches over a summer bank holiday weekend) very busy. The fact that thousands of tourists, mostly from Europe, Japan and the United States, flock to visit Britain’s ancient sites and twee villages does not help. Added to that, the British enjoy more public holidays and time off, in general, than many other countries. This means that the roads and cities are almost always congested, particularly at holiday times. In fact, many Britons seek refuge in the holiday spots of the Mediterranean and Florida to “get away from it all.” Britons simply do not have the space that is enjoyed by many Americans. The roads are also generally narrow, and the restrooms maybe much smaller than you are used to.
Another thing you will notice about Britain is the lack of “convenience” that you may be used to at home. There are no drive-in banks and very few drive-in fast food restaurants. You may find that if you drive into a city, you will have to park your car and walk to wherever it is you plan to go, there is not enough space to have a car park outside of every store.
There are, however, ‘out of town’ shopping malls that do have their own parking lots, and these stores mainly consist of food markets, hardware or furniture stores, and garden centers. Also, many stores have limited opening hours, and although some of the larger ‘out of town’ stores are open to between 8:00PM and 10:00PM in the evening, many are not. Some ‘out of town’ stores, such as food markets, are open 24hrs, but this is relatively rare. There are also trading restrictions on Sundays, and you will find those that do trade are only open between 10:00AM and 4:00PM. However, you will find small convenience stores open for longer hours on Sundays, and at other times.
You will also find that some pubs (that great English institution!) have limited opening hours, however, some do stay open all day. If you are bringing kids with you, then it is OK for them to go into pubs, as long as they do not consume any alcohol (unless, of course, they are 18 or older). You also have to be 17 to drive a car in Britain.
You will not find baseball or your style of football in Britain. Instead, the national game during the winter months is what you call soccer; the British call it football!
The national game in the summer is, of course, cricket. There is nothing more English than sitting in a deck chair on the village green, eating cucumber sandwiches, sipping a pint of warm beer or a cup of hot tea, and hearing the sound of willow striking leather, as you watch a game of cricket on a warm, lazy summer afternoon!
The British, as a people, are generally friendly, have a dry wit and a sarcasm that you may not always understand. Sometimes things are said that intentionally mean the exact opposite, such as one might say on a cold and stormy day, ‘nice weather for the time of year’ or, if something was too expensive, ‘that’s cheap at half the price’.
The British people also tend to have more of a worldly outlook than do Americans. As mentioned above, with the legacy of the British Empire, and the fact that Britain is very much a crossroads between East and West (as you will discover for yourself if you fly into Heathrow Airport) the country is very cosmopolitan, especially in London and in some of the larger cities. In fact about 80% of Britons have a passport, compared to only about 20% of Americans. The BBC News carries stories from all over the world, something you don’t always see on mainstream American TV news.
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