Just over a year ago, I wrote a post detailing all the things I miss most about America. It was a rough first year, getting used to a life without millions of fast food options or washing machines that actually work and don’t take 2 hours. Like any loving relationship, England and I have had our fair share of disagreements and unpleasantries. I’ve made many a complaint about her dreary weather and her narrow, winding, car-sickness-inducing roads.
But there are so many little things I love about England, and it feels more like home now.
I’ve decided to write this post on what I love about London, rather than England as a whole, because most of my experience is London-based. Just like New York City differs drastically from Oklahoma City, London does not represent an entire country of people. I also want to note that these are just my own personal observations – I don’t want to stereotype or imply that all British people are the same! It’s a beautifully diverse country, which brings me to the first thing I love:
One of my absolute favorite things about London is the diversity of the cosmopolitan city. It’s the kind of thing that makes me get emotional just thinking about it. The range of cultures and people that come together in this city, the many languages spoken, the many different cultural celebrations are so beautiful and refreshing.
I’m not saying it’s always easy. People from different cultural backgrounds sometimes have different ideas of what’s okay and what’s not. Sometimes people can seem really rude, or oblivious to the personal space of others. Some cultures don’t have the same pleasantries I do, and on my bad days it really annoys me.
But I’m reminded that, just like me, they’ve left their own culture and background to start a new life in this city. Whether to escape persecution, make a better life for their kids, or just because they fell in love with someone there. If anything, I’m probably the one having the easiest time of it. So I try to relax, and remember that my way isn’t the only way.
Every time we visit America I’m reminded that England is living in the future. First of all, in England we don’t mess around with signing receipts. Your server isn’t going to walk off with your credit card. They bring the card machine to you and you enter your pin.
But more importantly, we have contactless payment. If it’s under £30, you can just place your card over the machine and be on your merry way. Which is great for someone like me who is always in a rush.
But even better: Apple Pay. Game changer. I don’t have to spend time digging out my wallet because, let’s be honest, my phone is already in my hand anyway. And most places in London accept it. The buses and the tube have it! I don’t have to mess around with buying tickets or paying in exact change. I just use my phone and two seconds later I’m off trying to run up the stairs before the bus starts moving.
The other day I was buying a drink before my train journey home and had TWO MINUTES before the train left. Thanks to Apple Pay and a bit of sprinting I made it. I sound like an ad right now but I just can’t stress enough how much the rest of the developed world needs to catch up.
London is so fashionable! London fashion week is coming up and I’m truly gutted that I’m not going to any shows. Joe and I were super fortunate to get to attend some shows two years ago and I loved it so much! Seeing all the great looks around London always inspires me to dress better myself. My favorite thing about the fashion here is that you see so many wild, unique things that you never have to feel self-conscious about your own choices. I can wear more adventurous things and know that it won’t be the craziest thing anyone is wearing out.
Obviously England isn’t perfect, but there are a lot of initiatives to reduce the negative impact that we have on the environment. For example, all plastic carrier bags cost 5p (basically 5 cents). This might not seem like a lot of money, but when I’m checking out at the store, you better believe I’m not going to pay for a bag unless I absolutely have to. Most people carry tote bags or stronger plastic bags that can be used over and over. Plastic bag usage dropped 85% after it was introduced.
There are a number of things like this: Wetherspoons banned the use of plastic straws; Waitrose is getting rid of their single use coffee cups; and many coffee chains offer discounts for using a reusable cup. Many of London’s restaurants and supermarkets offer vegetarian or vegan options. They may be small steps, but there is an overall attitude towards bringing awareness and change.
There’s a difference in attitude in the people as well. People seem more willing to make changes to the products they use, cut back on how much energy they use, etc., whereas Americans tend to go a little overboard when it comes to personal convenience.
I grew up in a state that just recently voted to get rid of archaic laws about when and where you can buy or consume alcohol. So as you can imagine, there’s still a lot of stigma about drinking there.
I still remember the day I arrived in Guildford in 2014 for my study abroad trip. Our group went out to explore and got about 10 feet before discovering a pub full of people drinking early on a Sunday afternoon. Our still-underage-in-America hearts leapt with joy once we realized that not only could we legally buy drinks, but we could have them any damn time of day we pleased. We forgot about exploring the rest of the city and ordered a couple of rounds.
People in the UK will use anything as an excuse for a bev, and there’s not so much negative stigma attached to it. Celebratory drinks, holiday drinks, afternoon drinks in the park, a drink (or four) after work. You can buy mixed drinks, beer, or wine in the cold drink section and drink on your way. Drinking in the street? Absolutely fine. Drinking in the car? Fine, as long as you’re not driving. You’re supposedly, technically not allowed to drink on the tube but we’ve all done it and I’ve never seen anyone arrested.
When I worked in the music industry, sometimes we’d start drinking at work on Friday. It’s chill.
It’s not about alcoholism or coping through drink (not saying it doesn’t happen) but it’s more about camaraderie, hanging out with your friends, having a good time. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
And I love pubs. There’s just this wonderful vibe when they’re full of people having a good time. A lot of pubs are really old but really pretty.
And finally, Wetherspoons is the shit and you won’t convince me otherwise.
I haven’t had a car in two years, and I don’t even have a UK drivers’ license. I don’t need it! London is a massive city but it’s so well connected with the underground, buses, and Uber everywhere if you really need it. (Like if you accidentally go too hard on the free drinks at a Christmas party and can’t handle the 15 minute walk home. Oops.)
In Oklahoma, my driving could accurately be described as too fast and too furious. I was recently recounting how I used to drive to work every day, cutting through back roads and anywhere that I could avoid a traffic light. I got stressed, screaming profanities at other drivers.
Life doesn’t have to be that way. When I was working in London my morning commute consisted of me, calm and collected, doing my makeup, only running late because the bus was stuck in traffic. Most of the time.
Look, I’m trying my best to eat a really healthy diet right now. I know junk food is useless. But the Domino’s pizza here is delicious. I mean it ruined my life because I ate so much of it when I moved to England, but also changed it for the better. Ya know? The cheese stuffed crust is my favorite ever and one of the primary reasons I doubt I could ever fully commit to veganism. And the BBQ base? Exquisite. I would go on but I’m getting really hungry and can’t continue thinking about it.
Afternoon tea and scones
Not all English people have tea and cakes at 4pm every day (although many do have a tea or coffee in the afternoon because we all need that energy boost). But, on special occasions, you might have a proper afternoon tea and it’s the BEST. The tea is only part of it; there are usually little sandwiches, scones, and tea cakes. Why are sandwiches 10x better when they’re cut up into little triangles? How can a cucumber sandwich be so delicious? And scones are the closest you’ll ever get to an American-style biscuit. I love them.
Just don’t get anyone started on the correct pronunciation of scone or whether you put on the cream or jam on first, because tea is more enjoyable without a family argument.
In the States, people are often overworked with very little paid time off. They see other people taking vacations and think “ugh, must be nice, some of us have to work.” And while workaholics can certainly exist anywhere, in the UK, full time workers are entitled to at least 28 days paid holiday. 28 DAYS. You can actually take time to live your life and enjoy it sometimes. Go on a trip somewhere. See a new city.
Tax is included
You know how in the States, when you buy something you have to add on a bit extra to the total because of tax? So you stand there trying to work out what it’s actually gonna cost at the till? In England they don’t do that. The tax is just included in the price. If you pick up a shirt and it says £15, it’s gonna cost £15 exactly. If you’re looking at a meal and it’s £10, it costs that. It’s so much easier. (Also people are paid actual wages; you aren’t obligated to tip.)
When I lived in the states, I had to pay around $50 a month for my portion of a family plan of calls, texts, and 12GB of data split 5 ways. When I moved here, I got a phone under contract for two years at £38 ($49) a month for 12GB to myself. Now that I’m out of contract, I got a SIM only deal that costs £16 ($20) for 30GB PER MONTH. Plus it comes with unlimited streaming of Netflix and Apple Music on my phone. Truly living in the future.
A very simple thing, but I love meal deals at places like Tesco and Sainsbury’s (two of the main supermarkets here). It’s £3 for a sandwich (or a wrap, salad, or pasta), plus crisps (or fruit) and a drink. BARGAIN. I ate so many meal deals while studying abroad and it’s still one of the best options for needing food on the go.
Frequent and smaller grocery shops
This used to annoy me, but now that I’m used to it, I prefer it. Based on my experience, Americans tend to do really big, infrequent trips to the store, stock up on loads of preservative-filled foods, and call it good for the month. Foods here have fewer preservatives, the fridges are smaller, and in London you usually have to carry it all home. Because of that, people tend to buy smaller amounts throughout the week, which means that you’re less likely to waste food if it goes off or if your plans change. Plus you don’t have to spend ages digging through the fridge, trying to decide what to eat.
Obviously no list of things I love would be complete without mentioning the accents. It’s cliche but most of us Americans are obsessed with the UK accent(s). I still love the accents, although I’m more used to hearing them now and don’t think as much of it. I’ve still got my American accent of course, but several people have commented on how my accent has changed since moving.
- Full English Breakfast: Delicious. Especially the hash browns. Oh my god do I love the hash browns here. And even though I’m not really eating meat anymore, I must admit I prefer the bacon here to American streaky bacon.
- Swearing: They swear so freely and colorfully and I love it.
- Slang: There’s so many good slang words that we just don’t get in America and I’m here for them. I wrote a post about some of them a while back.
- Commercials/Ads: I haven’t been to the movies or watched TV in America in a long time, but I feel like commercials are often so AGGRESSIVE. It’s often targeting hyper-masculinity or the appeal of luxury. But so many commercials here are so wholesome and diverse and heart-warming. I think I once started tearing up at a commercial for a bank?? And don’t get me started on this Amazon Prime ad. I know Amazon is problematic but that ad gets me crying in the best way.
- Eurostar: I can take the train to Paris – my favorite city in the world – and be there in two hours. Beautiful.
- Crumpets – I’m sure these must be available in America but they’re an English food and I love them so much.
- Pub chips slathered in ketchup and mayo. What more can I say?
There are other things I could discuss, like free healthcare or gun control but this is a fun post and we’re not gonna get too political here. Maybe another day. 😉
For my fellow Americans who have visited England, is there anything else you would add to the list? What’s your favorite thing about London?