We only moved to London for 11 weeks, but in that time, I managed to acquire some very British mannerisms. They say that it takes about four weeks for muscles to atrophy. So perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it took that long to lose the habits I had picked up there. For example:
1) Counting Floors
If an American says that her office is on the 3rd floor, you will walk up 2 flights of stairs to get there. The floor you enter on is #1, one flight up is #2, and one more flight up is floor #3. However, in most of Europe (including London), this is not the case. If an office is on the 3rd floor, you walk up 3 flights of stairs. You enter on the ground floor, so one floor up is floor #1, another flight up is floor #2, and so on.
So, imagine my confusion when the voice on the intercom of an industrial office building in Brooklyn told me they were on the third floor. There were no signs and dozens of office doors on every floor. Which office was theirs?? I figured it out, but let’s just say that for several weeks, I was constantly walking up an extra flight of stairs… and then walking back down.
I drink a lot of tea. I drink tea the way that many people drink water or soda or beer: that is, all the time. In England, I found my tea-loving brethren. I never had to ask if a restaurant had tea; it was a question of which of their many varieties I preferred. I never had to specify that I wanted “hot” tea. (Iced tea is not widespread in England.) And at a dive or a cocktail bar, I could order tea, and no one would look at me funny. I was pretty much in heaven. I mean, the English even have a traditional time of day specifically reserved for tea!
So, imagine my disappointment to return to the land of no-tea. The US is a coffee culture: we don’t meet someone for a hot beverage or for tea; instead, we say we’re meeting them for coffee. No bar has tea, and restaurants generally only carry one type of tea at most. In short, it took me a few weeks to get back in the habit of carrying a tea bag in my purse.
Speaking of tea, a popular variety is “Chamomile.” Except in the UK, it’s pronounced “kam-oh-mile,” so it rhymes with style. And the herb “basil” rhymes with “frazzle” in the UK, though it doesn’t in American English. When I arrived in London, I had trouble remembering to say them in the UK way. Then, when I returned to the US, I had trouble saying them the American way.
4) Word Choice
Even better than my inability to properly form words was my word choice. In the UK, asking for the “restroom” is silly, since that’s not a word. In London, this was the hardest change for me, since, “Where is the toilet?” sounds crass to an American ear. And did you know that illustrious discount retailer TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx in the UK, due to a long-ago naming conflict with something else called “TJ?” So, that was a fun carry-over when I needed to shop in the US.
5) Public Transit
Worst of all was how quickly we got used to London’s “Tube” waiting times: more than 3 minutes on the platform got people into a tizzy. A few days ago, in NYC, we waited 30 minutes for a train home – and it was a Friday night. Other US cities are often worse: San Francisco’s subway (BART) regularly involves a 20+ minute wait during the day or after rush hour, and Chicago’s non-airport subway lines can be worse.
Wait time aside, there’s also the little difference of where you can go. In the UK, a train or a bus will take you pretty much anywhere – no car required. In the US, outside the well-worn Boston-NYC-Philly-DC train corridor, good luck! In some US places, there is no feasible way to get from one city to another without an automobile. Not only is this more limiting and expensive, but it also prevents you from being able to do work or rest while traveling. And of course, that means there’s no way around the car traffic either.
However, the biggest issue for me is none of that: it’s motion sickness. The train is much less stop-and-go than a car, so imagine my joy at being able to forego nausea in London. That should help you picture my unhappiness upon returning to the land of cars. In Chicago, I actually had to decline rides from my parents and meet them at various destinations, so I could take the subway or walk. Given the fun of motion sickness, this is one I don’t foresee re-adjusting to any time soon.