9 things I've learned as an American living in London for the first time

From Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, to the late Princess Diana and the Queen herself -- London is one of the most significant and remarkable places in the world. The birthplace of Shakespeare and where Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia-- beloved films and novels we consumed growing up were conceived. It’s hard not to love or romanticise a place of such rich historical precedence or prestige. Not to mention the notable British actors and actresses we adore like Emma Watson or Tom Hiddleston—the list can go on!

Moving here from America in September 2021 left me both in awe and in a huge culture shock. The United Kingdom is culturally very similar but also very different to the States where I grew up. I was born and raised in New York City by parents from different countries - my dad hailing from Colombia and my mum from the Philippines. America is a huge melting pot of ethnicities, attitudes, views, and cultures, whereas England is more homogeneous than the United States, but London is its most diverse city.

Deciding to take a leap of faith, pack up everything in order to pursue my passion and further my education in getting a master's degree, has been a life-changing experience. I’m extremely grateful because not that many people can even have this experience, let alone afford to travel under the uncertain Covid-19 climate.

Here are some observations I have made as an American who has only been in the country for a little over five months.

1. Tea is a huge staple in the UK; almost everyone drinks it on a daily basis, as opposed to us borderline coffee addicts in the US. We willingly wait long lines at our local Starbucks just to get a simple americano or macchiato or even at another local coffee shop, while the Brits opt for tea and by tea they mean standard English Breakfast tea. Tea time is also a big deal in London, and it can be quite a fancy occasion too.

2. In the United States, we have three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and the President in the White House. It is not a big deal; we criticise our leaders all the time, but not so much here. The Queen is very well respected in England, and while criticisms of the monarchy do occur, they are not as frequent, nor are they encouraged.

3. When Americans think of the British accent, they think of the posh ones in movies, like Emma Watson's or Daniel Radcliffe's in Harry Potter, but this is not the only accent in England. Depending on where you go in England, you will hear a variety of British accents. Northern English accents differ from London accents, and there are also Cockney and other regional accents. When you speak like a Brit in the movies, people will tell you that you sound like the Queen.

4. While attempting to immerse myself in British culture, I am constantly learning new meanings for words or discovering new types of foods they eat that I have never tried back in the States. The word knackered has stuck with me since I first heard it. We never say that word, and I don't think it's used at all in the States, but it means 'tired' or 'exhausted'. I love both hearing that word and saying it at the same time.

5. Food. Now, this is a big one in terms of what we say in the States that they might say differently here. The most common phrase that they use that gets confusing for us when we arrive in England is the confusion between chips, crisps, and fries. What we call chips in America, they call crisps, and what we call fries, they call chips. Skinny fries however, they call french-fries.

6. As far as the attitude, I wouldn’t say that they are as warm as us Americans, but they are more polite and have better manners overall, and they are not as loud as us (I say us fondly because I love our passionate sides). My British friends, on the other hand, have told me that Americans come off as always positive, kind, and happy. Now, this makes me smile.

7. If you want to work part-time in a coffee shop, you should know what white coffee is. White coffee is simply an Americano with milk added to it. I had to ask what white coffee meant a couple of times, so save yourself from the awkwardness and double check first.

8. Okay, we are going into finance now because, as university students without a good full-time job, we need to know that the British pound is more valuable than the American dollar. The currency fluctuates daily, but for the most part, one British pound equals one dollar and thirty cents. If you are thinking of coming to England to work for a few years or less and then returning to the States, it could be financially advantageous, but only if you are planning to return.

9. There is so much more I want to share, and I am sure I will learn more as I go, but for my final fact - if you are going out, keep in mind that everything or most shops close earlier than they do in the United States. In most areas of the States, Starbucks and other fast-food chains or restaurants are open until 12am. Typically, most supermarkets here close by 7pm, and most restaurants in London close around the same time during the week. If you go to central London (which is similar to NYC), there are some restaurants and shops that stay open late, but not as many as back in the States. But, in any case, going to bed earlier is better for you, and I have grown to enjoy not staying out so late because it makes me less cranky the next day.

Overall, I’m enjoying my time in England, and even though it hasn’t been a year yet, I can’t wait to see and explore more. As soon as my course finishes, I honestly can’t wait to see Westminster Abbey (resting place of past kings and queens of England) this summer, visit the gorgeous Cotswolds in the English countryside, and yes, do the whole touristy visit with Buckingham Palace, Princess Diana’s old apartment, and the classic museum tours. The landscapes are also breathtaking and that’s worth exploring as well, aside from the city.

I hope these little introductory tips are helpful, and lastly, for any future dreamers looking for a sign to follow your dreams and take a leap of faith in your career or travel plans, or just in general—this is it.