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Expat Exchange - Culture Shock in England
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Hampstead, London


Culture Shock in England

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: If you're planning a move to England, or have recently settled there, it's natural to encounter some culture shock as you adjust to your new surroundings. Our insightful article is designed to help you navigate this transition smoothly. It offers practical tips and draws on the experiences of fellow expats who have successfully embraced the cultural nuances of England.

Welcome to the charming and complex tapestry that is England! As you prepare to embark on your new adventure, it's natural to wonder about the cultural nuances and potential shocks that await. Whether you're still grappling with the language or curious about the social do's and don'ts, this guide will help you navigate the cultural landscape of England with greater ease. From understanding the stages of culture shock to avoiding common faux pas, we've gathered insights and advice from expats who've walked the path before you. So, grab a cup of tea, and let's dive into the quintessentially English experience that lies ahead.

1. Culture Shock Stages in England

Adapting to a new culture often follows a predictable pattern of stages. Initially, you may experience the 'honeymoon phase,' where everything about England seems charming and exciting. As time passes, the 'negotiation phase' may set in, where differences become more apparent and frustrations may arise. It's common to feel homesick or irritable during this period. Eventually, you'll enter the 'adjustment phase,' where you start to feel more at home and develop routines. The final stage, 'adaptation,' is when you fully embrace the new culture, feeling comfortable and confident in your new surroundings. Remember, these stages are not linear and can vary in duration and intensity for each individual.

2. Language Learning in England

While England is predominantly English-speaking, the variety of accents and regional dialects can be challenging for learners. Phrases and colloquialisms unique to British English may also catch you off guard. However, most locals are patient and appreciate the effort put into learning their language. Immersion is key, so don't shy away from conversations, and consider joining language classes or groups to practice. You'll find that with time, the nuances of British English will become more familiar and less daunting.

3. Top Cultural Faux Pas

  1. Queue Jumping: Respecting the queue is a cardinal rule in England. Cutting in line is considered very rude and is likely to earn you disapproving tuts or outright confrontation.
  2. Over-familiarity: English people often value a certain level of formality when first meeting someone. Using first names without invitation or being too touchy-feely can be seen as presumptuous.
  3. Ignoring Pub Etiquette: Pubs are a staple of English culture. Remember to wait your turn when ordering at the bar, and if someone buys you a drink, it's polite to offer one in return.
  4. Neglecting Politeness: Please and thank you are essential in daily interactions. Underestimating the importance of politeness can be perceived as ill-mannered.
  5. Discussing Money: Conversations about personal wealth or salary are generally considered taboo and can make people uncomfortable.

4. Expat Advice on Culture Shock

Many expats emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind and being patient with oneself. One American expat shared how joining a local cricket club helped him understand the subtleties of English humor and camaraderie. Another expat from Canada highlighted the value of exploring beyond the tourist spots to truly appreciate the local way of life. They also suggest finding a support network, whether it's through social media groups or community centers, to share experiences and gain insights. Most importantly, expats encourage embracing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of English culture, as these are what make the experience enriching and memorable.

As you settle into your new life in England, remember that culture shock is a natural part of the process. It's a journey of learning, adapting, and eventually thriving in a culture that, while different, can become a place you proudly call home. Keep these insights in mind, and you'll be sipping tea like a local in no time!

"Yes, at first I was just happy to observe the differences, then I suppose I made more of an effort to blend in and resented other Americans. Then I reached a stage where I stopped thinking of being "foreign". Having recently made a second move after an interim back in the US, I find I still have some culture shock -- and part of that is shock at how the UK has changed since I've been away," said one expat living in Leeds.

"The main plus for me is the NHS. I was lucky to have good health insurance in the US and was close to top-notch hospitals and doctors. But many Americans have had to live with poor health care or none. The Affordable Care Act is in the throes of changing that, whereas the UK has provided full coverage for everyone for a long time at no point-of-service cost. The other thing I appreciate is good public transportation," said one expat living in Leeds.

"The greatest difficulty I had was in finding a job at the level I had had in the US. Another challenge is getting used to housing. Space is at a premium and very few houses provide the storage that Americans are used to," commented an expat living in Leeds.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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