Country to country, even city to city, the same behavior or word phrase can be considered on a scale normal to extremely offensive. There are some faux pas when it comes to a few of these expressions in London. People often say, “but we speak the same language!” but all of the words we share hold the same exact meaning. Here are a few of those communicative and behavioral differences I have noticed in my first week:
Talking on Public Transport
The British, overall, are pretty quiet people. There seems to be a universal rule that you are NOT to talk on the tube, especially during rush hours. If you talk, you risk the burn of glares from everyone else on the train who have all in that moment collectively decided the one thing they all instantaneously have in common is that they don’t like you at all. Once you speak, you have also revealed a secret that is best kept to yourself: you are not a local. The jig is up. I have, though, grown to like the silence of the tube. After a long day it’s comforting to sit with your thoughts, read a book, or just take time to breathe.
No, they don’t think you’re sick or need help. Though in America this greeting may be perceived as strange, in England, there is their version of ‘how are you?’ I was a little caught off guard whenever someone asked me this within my first few weeks. I always ran to a mirror afterwards to check if I looked funny that day, since seemingly everyone was asking if I was alright, and thought my appearance had something to do with the concern – but no! This is just how people greet each other here!
I found it strange that here, walking down the street, it is not common to smile at strangers. In the mornings, especially in my first few days of my morning commute, I would smile at almost everyone in my path. I was in the honeymoon period of just being so excited to be here (and to be honest, that honeymoon period will not end anytime soon), and couldn’t contain my happiness, so it seemed that I had a permanent grin stuck on my face. I received many confused looks from passers-by. Once again, I thought there might be something stuck in my teeth or wrong with my appearance that would solicit this general response. I was told by my teacher that this is quite the average. Not many people smile at strangers as we do often in the States. She encouraged all of us not to change our ways, and to keep smiling at others we passed in the mornings as “the British love it when Americans smile, and goodness knows, they need it.”
As an animal lover who left her pets behind when she left home, I am never hesitant to pounce on a good opportunity to ask to pet another person’s dog when I see one. It just so happens that I am in an area where my top three favorite kinds of dogs are the most popular – Corgi, Daschund, and Shiba Inu. Where I am from in the States, it is not unusual to ask someone to pet their dog; however, I learned only about two weeks in why I had been looked at so strangely whenever I asked to do the same here. I have a friend whose internship comes equipped with a company dog, and whom she is responsible for walking every day (he is a Daschund by the way!). She is not allowed to let anyone pet the dog on walks because dog snatching is a huge issue here. The initial ploy of this operation begins with someone asking to pet your dog, then once close, they take the dog and run. Because of this fact unbeknownst to me at the time, I would not be surprised if a warning has been issued throughout the neighborhood of a ‘strange American girl asking to pet every dog.’ Next time I will make sure disclose I’m just a student away from home who needs a fix of dog love.