Its been a long time since my last post and its great to be back. My husband and I just got back from London and had THE BEST TIME! I can’t wait to do more blog posts on our visit. But first, I thought it would be fun to do a little post on some of the differences between America and the UK. There are obviously a lot more than the post below, but these are just a few that I couldn’t help thinking about as we traveled around.
First things, first right? There are a lot of differences between the average UK bathroom and an American one. For starters, in America we tend to call our bathrooms the “restroom”. In England its commonly called the “Toilet” or sometimes the WC (Water Closet). Most American bathrooms use a lot of paper products. We usually have toilet seat covers and paper towels for drying our hands. In the UK, I never saw a paper toilet seat cover, and they use air dryers pretty ubiquitously. (Yay for less waste, but what do they do to sit on the toilet seat? UK people please let me know, I’m very curious!). Also, shape of the toilet seats are different. American seats have a wider ring and UK ones are very thin. Finally, in the UK you can expect to pay for some public restrooms. When we were at a train station it was 30 Pence to use the toilet.
The UK uses the Pound Sterling. The exchange rate varies, but when we were there it was about $1.35 to every Pound. It can be deceiving when buying things to not think of them in dollars. At one point my husband was going to order a cocktail and I said, wow I think that cocktail is 18$. On the menu it said 13 something. It can be helpful to use your calculator on your mobile phone to see the exchange rate.
In America, tipping is part of our culture. We tip 15-20% on meals, cab drivers, the people helping us with luggage and more. British people don’t have the same expectations. At some restaurants we saw a 12 percent “service charge” attached to our bill, but tipping on top of that is not expected. At a pub we asked our server about it. She said that while its nice that foreigners provide tips, locals typically do not. That said, we did see a few tip jars at some pubs so perhaps the country is moving more toward tipping.
4—Public transportation — “Mind the Gap”
The UK has a fantastic public transportation and London has one of the best in the world. The network of underground and overground trains make it so easy to get around. Trains literally come every 1-3 minutes and we had such a great time taking the “Tube” all over London. London is also famous for their cabs as well as the double decker jump on-jump off buses. We also took trains to outside towns and found it incredibly easy. We purchased what’s called an “Oyster Card” at the train station and loaded funds onto the card. It can be used at any underground station. Its easy to load up additional funds as needed. Additionally, at the airport you can put any extra money on your Oyster card back onto your credit card when you leave the country. The train from to and from Heathrow Airport was faster than taking an Uber or cab and MUCH cheaper.
Traditional British Ale is not the same as what we drink here in the US. Its typically served on Cask — so its fairly warm and without a lot of carbonation. Additionally, the alcohol percentages are low — typically between 3-4%. So they serve it primarily in large pint size glasses. If you like a strong IPA, it can definitely be found in London (they have a burgeoning craft beer scene too!), but primarily you’ll see the more traditional ales. They also serve a lot of ciders. But I found them far too sweet.
6—Chips vs. Fries vs. Crisps
If you go to London you can expect someone to ask you if you’ve had fish and chips. Yes, its delicious so definitely go to a pub and try it. When you order it, you’ll notice that it comes with “Chips”. Chips in British vernacular are what Americans would think of as thick cut French fries. If you want the skinny fries, those are called “French fries”. Additionally, if you want a bag of what we call chips – you’re going to want to ask for “Crisps”.
7—Stay to the Left!
As most people probably know, drivers in the UK drive on the left side of the road. This also applies to the general flow of walking traffic as well. When you go up stairs in the Underground for instance, you’re expected to stand on the right, walk on the left. You really have to make a concerted effort when in the UK to make sure where you’re looking when crossing the street.
Sadly, London has experienced regular terror attacks and the city is definitely on high alert. Though we have intensified security in the US, especially in places like Washington DC and NY, the amount of armed police and the level of security even going into some restaurants is much higher.
Power outlets are different in the UK. (And other countries around the world). Most probably know this, but if you go to London and you’re staying in a smaller hotel, chances are they will not have a US outlet available and you’ll need a power outlet converter. When we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel they had US power outlets, but when we moved to a small hotel outside of town we had to use our converters to power our mobile phones.
10—Time, Date and Temperature
If you don’t know what 21:15 is then brush up on your 24 hour clock. The UK uses this version of time and it can be confusing when trying to book dinner reservations or seeing when museums close. (I hope your math is better than mine 🙂
When writing the date, unlike the US who uses the Month/Day/Year — in the UK its Day/Month/Year – so be careful when you’re filling out your travel form before going through customs.
Finally the UK uses Celsius instead of Fahrenheit for tempurature. Forget even trying to do the conversion, just bring a light jacket, prepare for some rain and perhaps some sun and call it a day.