(Originally published on The Unofficial Field Guide to WashU ArtSci, January 22, 2016)
A lot has happened in the past two weeks. The world lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole and Gary Coleman. Barack Obama literally dropped the mic at his last State of the Union address. High School Musical celebrated it’s 10-year anniversary (Zac Efron was not in attendance). Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee announced a boycott against the Oscar’s. There are discussions in Parliament to ban Donald Trump from the UK, and I moved to London for a six month stay!
I like to think that I’m getting settled in nicely. I’ve met and am becoming friends with my flat mates, I know how to get to campus, and how to take the Tube. I even bought groceries to avoid buying fish and chips every other day. All in all, I’d say that my adjustment to life in Great Britain is going well. Instruction started this week but I don’t have my first lesson until Thursday. I’ve heard rumors that UK instruction is very different from universities in the United States, but I can’t say exactly how it’s different until next week. At the moment, all I can share is what I have learned about life in London.
It feels like everything has been shifted three centimeters to the left. There’s a feeling of vague familiarity, like when you visit your high school and almost recognize the hallways you used to walk down. Despite the sense of recognition, there are seemingly inconsequential differences that constantly remind me that I’m not at home. While shopping for all my home goods, I found out that there are different weights for duvets. You also have to buy the duvet cover separately, which makes sense with all the different options for duvet heaviness. It’s distinctly American to order chips and pass on the vinegar. Cars will happily run you over on the street and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t add milk to your tea. Frosted Flakes are called Frosties, TJ Maxx is rebranded as TK Maxx, and housing projects are called social housing. Potatoes are strangely sweet and so is the butter. None of the foods that I buy contain high fructose corn syrup, bacon is shaped more like an oval than a strip, and ground beef is called mince.
One of the more immediate differences is how expensive everything is here, especially my favorite greasy foods. A little cheeseburger and fries from Five Guys will run you $3 more here than at home. Three bucks doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re on a budget every penny counts. And, sadly, Five Guys is about as cheap as burgers come. Unless you make them at home. If you’re in the mood for pizza, a large cheese from Domino’s will cost $22 (it’s also .5” smaller in diameter to the US large). Most heartbreakingly for me is the cost of doughnuts. I’ve been spoiled by the cheap prices of John’s Donuts, so it hurt my soul a little when I found out that a dozen doughnuts will cost $13 on the cheap end. But food items are not the only things with high price hikes. My hair dye, which I usually buy from Target, costs about $8 more and is only sold in five or so store around the city. So far the biggest shock I’ve experienced is to my bank account, but I’m only two weeks into a 22-week stay, so I’m sure culture shock will strike in full force shortly.
To help diminish the impacts from said culture shock, Accent International ran a brief two-day orientation where they took most of the Wash U students in London to see the sights and foods of London. We went on a three-hour bus tour of the city of Westminster and of the city of London. We made the mandatory stops at Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and at a shopping center with a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The bus didn’t stop for more than 20 minutes, but the ride was educational nonetheless. (It was on this bus that I first heard about social housing). I also learned that an engraving of Martin Luther King Jr. is carved on the Royal entrance to Westminster Abbey.
Three hours was just enough time to whet our palettes about the insanely rich culture of London and briefly explore two of its 33 boroughs. I’ll work my way through the other 29 as the weeks wear on but as for today, I have a tea scheduled at the British Museum.