My family has been in the UK now for almost 21 months. Despite the rumor (or rumour) that the language is the same, the fact that American movies (films) are everywhere, there is a Subway sandwich shop around the corner, and the American grey squirrel has taken over from the native red squirrel, one does feel constantly confronted with things that are slightly or even vastly different. There is a sort of minor, yet constant culture shock, which mostly makes life very interesting, but sometimes leaves you saying "Just could there be a Target superstore somewhere!" Driving on the left, writing the dates with the day first (which does make sense when you think about it), using the right terms for trash can (rubbish bin) and parking lot (car park) and making sure you ALWAYS say trousers and only in the most intimate company "pants," and trying not to speak too loudly in a restaurant, make for a situation of always being "on your toes."
There are some things here I will miss very much and expect to experience a kind of reverse culture shock when we return to the states in a few weeks. These are things I wish I could take with me when we move. Some are very odd, I realize and I will probably have to add more later as moving day approaches:
1. Footpaths. You could probably hike across the entire UK using footpaths that traverse villages, farms, forest, hills. Some of these paths are the ancient routes of Romans or Saxons (or whomever was taking charge at the time). These right of ways are maintained right through private property and are a wonderful way to see the country. I can walk out my door and within five minutes' walk be heading through a sheep pasture with newborn sheep frolicking in the crisp air.
2. International news as "normal news." Sri Lanka, Mexico, Zimbabwe, India, France, are the top stories, not the stories "tacked on at the end" of news broadcasts, or the back pages of newspapers. The new of the world is "the news" here. Would Angela Merkel, Robert Mugabe and Nicolas Sarkozy be on the tip of my tongue if I were back in the realm of the 10 o'clock news in the US? It's all there, of course, but sometimes you have to dig for it or be one of those people who watches public television or subscribes to the New York Times.
3. Smaller portions of food and drink. The all you can eat buffet is an extreme rarity here. As is the doggy bag. That's because restaurants tend to actually serve a sensible amount of food and you are not likely to have a pound and a half of pasta con whatever to take home with you. No such thing as drive through fast food or big gulps. Our family went to a hockey game recently (sort of a minor league affair) and there were hot dogs, beer and popcorn, just as you would expect, but nobody ate them during the game! Part of me thought "What is wrong with these people!" The other part of me (the part with the extra fat cells) said "thank goodness I am not being seduced by a footlong and I can actually pay attention to who has the puck!"
4. Public transportation. There's a lot to gripe about here about public transport. The buses are expensive and often late. The trains to London can be really crowded. But it's here! And there are bus stops and train stations in small villages, and people of all economic backgrounds ride them. The government actually restricts the sizes of parking lots (how unAmerican!) in order to make it difficult for people to park. This also means you are more likely to only buy the amount of food or clothing or video game consoles that you can actually carry in your own two hands. What a thought!
5. Tea with milk. At 4 p.m. With one biscuit (translation: cookie). Wow. this is civilized. Tea does taste better with milk.
6. Healthcare as a basic human right. Poor or rich, employed or just laid off, you can take yourself or your kid to the doctor if you are sick. No one has to choose between food and medicine. No one has to keep a job that makes them miserable just so their wife can get her chemotherapy. Even the really conservative people here would not take that away. Your doctor's waiting room might not have tropical fish in it, but you don't have to show an insurance card, pay a copay or run a gauntlet of 5 gatekeepers before you are ushered into the examining room.
7. The accent. The prediction of yet another day of rain in the south of England just doesn't sound so depressing when said in "British."I'll miss that.