The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Student faces U.K. cultural differences

3 min read

By Justine Rothbart

“Are you microwaving water?” My British flatmates would ask that question, tilt their head, and then look at me like I was an alien from a different planet.
Apparently, every British household has a kettle.

Never having owned a kettle myself, I would always heat up water in the microwave to make tea. I never thought it was unusual until I studied abroad.
Last semester I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland. I lived in a 12 person flat and I was the only American. Six of my flatmates were Scottish and the other five were English.

I loved having 11 other flatmates because there was never a dull moment. Half of our conversations were, “I can’t believe you pronounce that word that way!”

There are a variety of accents in the U.K. so it was interesting for my flatmates to compare their accents with each other. Someone from Newcastle, England has a very different accent than someone from Essex, England.

My flatmates did not only pronounce some words differently, but they used different words too. One time I was talking about fanny packs and they did not know what I was talking about. After they figured it out they said, “Oh, we call those bum bags!”

A few other words that are different are: studying = revising, trash = rubbish, band-aid = plaster, sweatshirt = hoodie, grilled cheese sandwich = toastie.

When I went to the Study Abroad fair at UMW, I was so overwhelmed because I wanted to travel everywhere.

My junior year was approaching fast and eventually I had to narrow it down. I decided that I wanted to travel in Europe in an English speaking country. I wanted a smaller city than London, but big enough so there is a lot going on.

Edinburgh was my choice for all those reasons, and also because of the history.

I am a Historic Preservation major, so I loved all of the old buildings and the many different ghost tours around the city. Walking around the city was easy. Just like at UMW, I ran into my friends when I was either walking around or at the grocery store.

I feel that I learned more about their culture because there was no language barrier between me and the locals. On one of my first days in Edinburgh I just assumed people would walk on the right side of the sidewalk, like in the U.S.

Apparently no one does that in the U.K., and they thought it was very unusual that Americans walk on the right side.

One of the best things about Edinburgh are the cafes. There are so many different cafes that have their own charm. Yes, there are a few Starbucks, but that is not the only option.

I went to the café called the Elephant House, which is where JK Rowling wrote the first two books of Harry Potter. Looking out the window of the cafe at the castle, it’s easy to see where the inspiration for Hogwarts came from.

Don’t stop in for a quick cup though, it took me about 20 minutes to get coffee because it was so popular. My favorite café was a less touristy one called Black Medicine Coffee Co. The interior has stone walls, high ceilings, and rustic furniture.

Behind the counter, the baristas were singing to a Beatles song.
I knew I was in the right place.

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