Culture Shocks (US --> UK)


I'll be starting as a 1 first year at a college in London this year (think UCL/LSE) and I grew up in America. The two countries are similar culturally, but they obviously have their differences.

To those that know about life in both countries, what are the major and minor cultural differences?

Did you experience any serious culture shocks?

Do you have any tips for adjusting to life in London?

Comments (109)

Aug 17, 2020 - 3:51pm

It shouldn’t be that much of a culture shock as you speak the language.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Aug 21, 2020 - 7:20pm

As I have lived in the biggest culture shock country on here as well as having a Minor in East Asian Studies with a major in Modern Languages (Spanish) as well as having visited 23 countries, I think I would know what I mean when I say that knowing the language greatly lessens the culture shock.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Most Helpful
Aug 17, 2020 - 3:53pm
  • Different language, different words, meanings, accents and class/region may be derived from it
  • Everything is smaller. apartments, hallways, the gym, streets, parking spaces, everything. super annoying. If you are a bigger guy who lifts, you will run into stuff everywhere
  • People are less direct when they communicate, very polite/friendly, but you have to read into it a lot more
  • Shopping is different, less choice in supermarkets, more expensive in London. Comparable or lower elsewhere. Depending on taste.
  • Taxation should be higher than in the US (depending on state you are from)
  • People are less vocal about politics, better not bring it up unless you know someone
  • People are very vocal about soccer and their team
  • People are less outspoken about religion, in a bad way. IMO it is a majority-Christian country, but nobody pushes their Christian agenda onto anyone. Churches are fairly empty.
  • British food is better than people say.
  • Dating is very different. Less formal, more open I would say. Girls here have fewer religious rules or attachments, IMO.
  • Biggest shock was the huge amount of immigration from the former Commonwealth (mainly India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) and Eastern Europe. You will hear lots of accents and learn more about other cultures.
  • While London is fairly international, I would say people are self-segregating within their own religious groups and ethnic circles.
  • cost of living: probably comparable to NYC. ridiculously expensive and you barely get anything for it.
  • Infrastructure: hit or miss. tube works "ok". you can reach everything by train.
  • Driving sucks across the entire nation. horrible traffic and lots of mini crashes, dents and nobody cares. Do not drive or park an expensive car in London unless you hate that car.
  • Crime should be lower than in most large US cities
  • There is NO SECOND AMENDMENT, you are not allowed to conceal-carry/open-carry any weapons at all (no knives, no guns, no rifles, etc). Of course, the criminals don't care about this. They also don't have a castle doctrine and you more or less have the obligation to retreat. No stand your ground. Be careful out there.
Aug 17, 2020 - 4:02pm


- Different language


Same language, different slang

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Aug 17, 2020 - 4:05pm

British English and American English is quite different, especially if you are in a professional environment. Spelling is different and some professors or MDs will point this out.

It also makes connecting with locals easier if you know what they are talking about.…

you will be 100% fine with American English, but the details are very important to British people.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 17, 2020 - 8:23pm

If you want to know the story behind Britain's gun control laws: some decades ago a guy did an absolute mass shooting and killed many children I think, the Britons pussied out and banned all types of guns, knife crime went through the roof, then they banned the knives, but now it's getting hard to ban sticks and spoons, isn't it?

Aug 18, 2020 - 2:18pm

The only reason why I mentioned the 2nd amendment is because students in the UK are often in situations with access to a lot of alcohol (or other substances) and I just don't want OP, another visitor or guest or tourist being forced to defend themselves. Some people have anti-social tendencies when they are drunk.

When abroad and such a situation comes up - walk away from it. It is not worth it.

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Aug 17, 2020 - 11:06pm

> People are less outspoken about religion, in a bad way. IMO it is a majority-Christian country, but nobody pushes their Christian agenda onto anyone.

Really curious as to why you see this as a bad thing. Or do you go out of your way to convert your coworkers and business contacts?

Aug 18, 2020 - 5:12am

I would never push my friends and network into a Christian religion or anything they don't want!

But I believe that there is a reason why we celebrate Easter and Christmas. Other religions are very vocal about their beliefs, why shouldn't we do the same? But you are right that this is something we should do in our personal lives and not at the office or at school.

Aug 17, 2020 - 11:45pm

To add to those bullets:
* I think European girls, although hard to generalize, are more straightforward. A lot of the European girls I've met, once they like you, they don't play games. If they aren't interested, you'll know right then and there (no waiting 2 days for a text-back, and then 3 days to show they aren't interested, although it could happen!). If they like you, they'll also make that very clear!!

  • Everything is so much cleaner. Think of London as a cleaner and smaller version of NYC
  • Shoreditch is the place you want to be if you're looking for cheap and delicious cocktails and a fun time
  • Associate 2 in Consulting
Aug 22, 2020 - 3:18pm

A few corrections to your post there (coming from someone who has lived in both places):

  • Yes, language is different but this is not a huge culture shock. One thing to watch out for is that in the UK "buff" can be used to describe a pretty girl and not a big guy
  • Not everything is smaller. Apartment size is totally dependent on price, gym sizes is also very dependent on the gym. If you're a big guy who lifts you will be fine. London isn't fucking Hobbiton from LOTR
  • The British (which if you're in London are almost a minority now-a-days) will be more indirect and polite. Frankly, even British Londoners have been around so many different cultures and international people that most are not afraid to tell you things to your face. Not much difference here.
  • You have just as much if not more choice in supermarkets. It really depends where you shop. If you shop at Wholefoods in the US and then you compare it to Lidl then of course there is less choice but you're not comparing apples to apples. You have M&S, Waitrose, Sainsburys and Wholefoods that provide plenty of choice. Shopping is also not more expensive in London by default. Depends what you buy and where. Price-wise it goes like this: Wholefoods = Waitrose > M&S > Sainsbury's > Tesco = Morrisons. Those are the main choices
  • Taxation varies - you are right
  • People are not less vocal about politics, it's just that in London society has evolved and the batshit crazy things that are discussed in the US (gay right, abortion, building walls, deporting immigrants) are not hot topics because there is a broad consensus on them. Politics in the UK (barring current Brexit talks) are more boring than in the US but people are very engaged
  • Yes, people are also vocal about Rugby and Cricket depending on your crowd. Learn something about at least one of the 3 sports. Also, most people do not give a flying shit about baseball or the NFL. If you're super into it, find the appropriate crowd. Also, if you have the luxury to go to a UK soccer match the fan base will be very different
  • People are less outspoken because most aren't so batshit crazy about religion as in the US. The fact that no one pushed their Christian agenda onto others is a huge huge positive. Also, most Christians in the UK are Protestant. You also have a huge mix of religions that (IMO) appear to co-exist more peacefully than in the states. 
  • British food is better than people say, but still has a limited selection. 
  • Dating is exactly as mentioned above. Soooooooo much better.
  • Yes, a lot of immigrants but also many from Spain, France, Italy etc. It's what makes the UK the UK (mainly London though)
  • Debatable - I think people mix very well with others but ALSO have their own group of religious/ethnic similars. This is in no way a barrier to friendship
  • CoL: so much better than NYC. Are you kidding me? CoL is much better in London than in NYC and London actually gives you the chance to save money in ways NYC does not
  • Infrastructure is 1000 times better than NYC. Everything from roads to public transport is infinitely better. NYC infrastructure is a fucking joke. Getting to London from some of the most bum-fuck-middle-of-nowhwere airports like Luton or Standsted is less of a pain than getting into the city from Newark or JKF.
  • Driving does suck - avoid a car at all costs
  • Crime is lower but knife crime can be higher. Watch out for crappy areas, especially in London
  • Yes, no one carried guns which is a huge positive. You can go to any large social gathering without the risk of being gunned down like a dog
  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 17, 2020 - 4:11pm

Also, don't forget to take your ID with you when you go to the supermarket to buy spoons

Aug 17, 2020 - 4:16pm

I expected the shock to be bigger, but the countries are more similar than I expected them to be. I'd say the three biggest differences were,

  1. London goes to sleep at night, unlike New York, your pharmacies, food/drink besides the off-license and takeaway, and many other key things you very much need at 2 AM are going to be unavailable. It's not the end of the world but not having the post-night-out resources available is quite painful.

  2. Many of the familiar products you love have an European recipe, everything just tastes different. You order fast food at a touch screen which is pretty nutty, but convenient when you want to order non-verbally by pointing at things.

  3. Footy is life. It's surprisingly easy to connect with people over it. My best mentoring moments happened when a senior person and I spent 15 minutes kicking a deflated ball around the bullpen. There are only 20 teams in the premier league, and for making an impression at networking events it's pretty crucial to know at least a thing or two about each one.

  • Prospect in Other
Aug 17, 2020 - 4:25pm

I guess it works out that I love football then (I'll have to adjust to not calling it soccer). I've been following the prem for years and I support crystal palace. Got clowned all through high school for not being in love with basketball or football, but I guess it all worked out lol. This was really helpful, thanks!

Aug 17, 2020 - 4:25pm

The biggest shock will be once you land and realize how people behave. Their behavior is quite different from the "American" way (huge generalization, the US itself is so diverse).

One aspect to learn is how to read and analyze body language. Extremely useful for the office, when meeting new people and for dating. People say one thing but mean something different.

Pop culture, TV/movies and music are very different in the UK. Another level of complexity is that the UK is a very diverse group of countries. Welsh, Scottish and English people have their own cultural elements and it is very interesting to learn about them. Make sure you visit Ireland if you can as well, very cool place.

  • Prospect in Other
Aug 17, 2020 - 4:30pm

Yeah, that sounds about right. Americans (this is also a generalization) are considered to be rude and don't have filters right?

Yeah, that's something I think I'll just pick up as I live and interact there.

Would expect the culture to be different that makes sense. Yeah, I've visited Scotland (have cousins there) and it was beautiful. Would love to visit Ireland as well.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 17, 2020 - 8:25pm

No, only Americans do that. Actually quite annoying to hear them talk about some random European country they want to visit like it's the new vegan soy-flavoured coffee shop that opened recently down the road.

Aug 18, 2020 - 4:54am

Potentially the biggest thing you'll notice, being in your first year of college, is the lower drinking age and subsequent easy access to alcohol. Lots of foreigners say they're surprised at the extent of the UK's drinking culture, and this is amplified 100x at university.

Aug 18, 2020 - 8:15am

Accents and speech mannerisms within the US are a primarily geographic distinction, with a secondary element of class distinction.

Accents and speech mannerisms within the UK are a primarily class distinction, with a secondary element of geographic distinction.

Boisterous gung ho pursuit of success is an aspirational virtue in the US, and polite awkwardness is looked down upon.

Polite awkwardness is an aspirational virtue in the UK, and boisterous gung ho pursuit of success is looked down upon.

Americans think all British accents are posh; a Mancunian could have Americans quivering at the knees and laugh their way to the bank for it.

Brits think all Americans must be from New York, Texas, California, or "Middle America"; American studio executives laugh their way to the bank on British audiences.

Brits identify Americans by their accents. Americans assume all Brits are white.

America is a reality TV show whose stars are generally earnest. Britain is a dull and earnest place, whose people generally make fun of themselves.

Americans use hyperbole by default. Brits use understatement by default.

Brits squabble about American spelling without acknowledging that spelling in the English language makes no sense anyway. Americans don't squabble about spelling because they've given up on spelling correctly.

Brits are aware that no foreigners can actually eat their food (marmite, haggis, etc). They're fine watching their own people get fat on fish and chips. Americans don't actually know what their own food is (they think "burritos" are Mexican, and "alfredo" pasta is Italian). They're fine watching their own people get fat on supersized portions of any kind of food.


Well, I could go on, but work beckons. You get the idea.

In summation, Americans and Brits are kindred peoples, divided by a common language.

The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
Aug 18, 2020 - 5:27pm

be a sponge.. embrace the differences and take in the subtle nuances that make travel, immersion and assimilation such rewarding experiences. For me, food, history, music and sport would be major draws.

Not sure if you're a drinker but embrace the old pub culture as a meeting place and way to develop friendships and relationships. Tag along with your classmates and finish at the night club on the dancefloor. Clubs can have somewhat of a negative connotation in the U.S. because of bottle service culture, but theyre much more equitable and laidback in Europe.

Travel. Assuming you settle into London nicely, try and limit your trips back home to 1-2 times per year or if needed, try to entice your family to go see you in London. Traveling back to USA can limit the potential epic weekend trips around Europe. You may not have time to do this for another 5-10 years once you graduate.

Date. Alot. Dont get hung up on the high school gf/bf or someone back home. Date british girls, european, asian, whatever. You only truly know what you like after sampling a few things.

Sports. Embrace football (soccer), rugby and check out some games. The rugby crowd is nice and well-mannered.

Aug 19, 2020 - 12:41pm

Having done the exact same thing, here’s what you’ll notice in the beginning.

We’ll start with some vocab/slang-

Fit - Fit is how you describe a girl there that you would’ve said is hot back in the US. It doesn’t mean she’s actually athletic which took me a bit to wrap my head around, just that she’s attractive. Same could be applied to guys I suppose

Period - Do NOT end a sentence aloud by saying period. Just don’t. Ok? Full stop.

Que/Q/the que- There are no lines to wait in, you que.

Half five or any other time- It means half PAST the hour given.

You alright? - This doesn’t mean are you ok, they’re asking how you’re doing. Equivalent to what’s up.

-Travel is not as big as everyone makes it seem for Uni students. You’re just starting your bachelors, most kids are broke just like here. There are always exceptions though.

-They will genuinely be interested in your high school experience and if it was like they see on TV. They watch a ton of American TV so obviously they want to know if gossip girl, or whatever the new show is, is real.

-Drinking- They start drinking considerably younger than most Americans and they drink more than most of us. Drinking games are endless, Queenie, Zulu etc

Weather- The weather there is crap, but you will never see a group of people so interested and with so many different ways to describe it. “Oy mate, it’s chucking it down”

Food- Not nearly as bad as everyone makes out. Food here in college dining halls isn’t exactly gourmet lol. At least the British have some good names for stuff. Get yourself a toad in the hole.

The rest I’ll leave for you to discover.

Good luck! You’re gonna have a great time!

Aug 20, 2020 - 3:38am

1) What American's call college is called university (or "uni") in the UK. College in the UK is what Americans call high school. You may be asked where you went to "6th form" or "college" or where you did your "A levels" by other British students. All this refers to where you went to high school. 

2) Private schools in the UK are called public schools. Public schools, as you Americans know them, are called state schools in the UK. You may hear the term "public school boy" which is often a derogatory term used to describe a spoiled rich kid who had an easy path in life (basically every Prime Minister we have ever had).

3) There are no fraternities or Greek Life on campus in the UK. We don't have anything that even closely resembles the NCAA and there are no athletic scholarships. This is down to the fact that football (soccer) clubs recruit kids from a young age (there is no draft like in US sports) and football stars don't waste 4 years in university like they do in the USA.

4) The first week of uni is called freshers week. DO NOT MISS THIS. It is basically a full week or partying and drinking and social circles are formed early. Make every effort to go out and don't turn down any offers to join a group on a night out. For a lot of students this will be their first time living away from home and you will see all kinds of funny things during this week. Also, if you were a nerd/introvert/virgin (haha) in high school this is a chance to come out of your shell and reinvent yourself into a social extrovert. I still have good memories from my first freshers week and that was 16 years ago!

5) Join clubs during freshers week. Unlike the US where you actually need to be good at sports, in the UK anyone can join a sports club. Wednesday's are sports day in the UK university scene which means there are no classes on Wednesday afternoon's so that clubs can train. Wednesday nights tend to be "sports club" nights at student bars and clubs so all the teams (mens and womens) tend to hit the bars hard on a Wednesday night. Watch out for those rugby players after a few drinks!

6) Given that you are going to be in London, house parties will be your main social outlet. London is geared towards workers and people with money and not students so house parties are a cheaper way to have fun. Go to as many of these as you can as they are an excellent place to meet members of the opposite sex in a relaxed and fun environment.

7) Leave politics and your political views at home. The newspaper a person reads in the UK lets you know that person's political views (Guardian = left wing, Times = pragmatic centerist, Telegraph (AKA Torygraph) = right wing, Daily Mail = Fox News). Don't be afraid to speak your mind if asked but don't initiate. I was at uni in 2004 back when it was cool to wear rubber wrist bands and I used to wear a "support our troops" one for our boys in Iraq and you wouldn't believe the number of "liberal" chicks who ended up back in my dorm room after a candid debate about the merits of "spreading democracy haha".

8) Don't be one of those whiny American's who (i) complains about not having shake shack open at 2 am like it is in Oklahoma or (ii) uses every situation to remind people that 'murica is number 1.

9) There are a lot of Brits who dislike the US. The reason for this is that the US has had a major influence over UK politics and a lot of people feel it has gone too far. You will encounter people who fought in Iraq/Afghanistan or lost relatives there who blame Tony Blair for blindly following Dubya and co into that debacle. Also, there is a general unease about aggressive American style capitalism seeping into all areas of UK life (look no further than American owners of Manchester United). Just ignore these people and do not engage. They are a fact of life and you can't change their minds.

10) London is not England. It's a completely different country. If you want a taste of real England hop on a train one weekend and go to NewCastle, Leeds, Liverpool, or any city north of Watford.

Best of luck and enjoy!         

Aug 22, 2020 - 6:48am

As a Londoner, I noticed Americans love to talk about 'Europe' as a collective. Brits find it weird to be included in the same category as Europe in this context because there are a lot of cultural differences compared to mainland Europe. Brits generally know more about America than Americans know about Britain (because of the global dominance of American culture).

i actually think London could almost be a separate country because it's so different to the rest of the UK. A lot of our social/cultural etiquette is based on efficiency because the city is so fast-paced. Every time I've been to North America, I noticed people are super outgoing and friendly, and it is normal to make conversation with strangers. British people are generally way more reserved, although Londoners are notoriously 'colder' than Northerners. Don't talk to strangers on the tube or even make eye contact, people will give you weird looks (because people are awkward and everyone is there on their own agenda e.g. going to work, school etc., so why waste time talking to people for no reason? People don't want to be bothered or have to talk to others unnecessarily). Remember things like only standing on the right on escalators so people can walk on the left. Have your ticket ready in your hand BEFORE you get to the ticket barrier, so you don't stop in front of the barrier and disrupt the flow of people trying to get through. Let people off trains/buses before you get on. Just a minor thing but it would probably help for you to learn how to pronounce some common names of places, as I noticed this is something a lot of people struggle with e.g. Leicester Square, Holborn, Greenwich, Southwark, Marylebone, Ruislip, Peckham, etc.

I don't know what state you're from but the UK and US definitely have strengths in different areas when it comes to food. Asian food here is decent overall (especially in London) because of immigrant communities, Indian food is excellent as well as good Chinese food, middle Eastern Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese. Don't expect good Mexican/Tex Mex. A lot of British cuisine tends to be ready meals/frozen food, or foods taken from other cultures...(chicken tikka masala, coronation chicken, chinese takeaway, spaghetti bolognese). And yes the stereotype is true, British people love to drink, and will make any excuse to do so (graduated? new job? birthday? christmas? new years? lockdown eased? hanging out with friends? going on holiday? any reason is a reason to drink - even not having a reason at all)

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