Five Most Surprising Things About England...as told by a Canadian

As a Canadian exchange student, the first month here has been a whirlwind. Everyone knows about the British stereotypes; tea, rain, lining up. The language differences are expected (Canadians use the American word for everything, but British spellings), the weather is certainly different, but here are five striking differences you wouldn’t have predicted...

1. Everyone seems way concerned with each other’s health

In England, I am frequently greeted with “You alright?” or “You okay?” This is incredibly disconcerting. In Canada, “you okay?” can be roughly translated to “you look very upset and/or sick. Do you want to talk/go home/eat lots of chocolate?” Though I understand now that this is the equivalent of Canadian “Hey, how’s it going?” I spent quite a while wondering if I had a perpetually troubled look on my face.

2. How to choose your vice?

I was quite surprised by how many young people in England smoke as I don’t have any peers at home that do. A Canadian student is much more likely to smoke marijuana than a cigarette. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising; marijuana will be made legal in Canada next year. Another difference; here, people assemble their cigarettes themselves. In Canada, they come pre-rolled. I’m very impressed by how DIY this is and I bet you really enjoy Ikea!

3. Wanderlust for “America”

When I tell people I’m from Canada, the most common reaction is ‘I love Canada! I want to go there!’ Surprisingly (to me), people talk about wanting to go to “America” (or North America in general) the same way we talk about coming to Europe. Though I thought the British were supposed to hate Americans, everyone seems very interested itravelling there. In fact, Canadians seem much harsher on our American neighbours than the British. As life in Canada resembles life in the States much more closely than it does life in Britain, I think the joke is on us!

4. Plethora of accents

Before I came to England, I wasn’t aware that the ‘British accent’ is actually dozens of different ways of speaking. While the lack of Downton Abbey-esque conversation was a tad disappointing, hearing the crazy mixture of accents soon made up for it! The first two slang terms I learned were ‘posh’ and ‘chavvy.’ Evidently, you can tell which one a person is by the way they speak. In meeting people, everyone discussed where they were from and it became quite clear that a northern accent was very different from a London accent which was very different from every other regional accent.

In Canada, everyone speaks so differently from each other,you stop noticing. It wasn't until last week that it occurred to me a friend of mine had a Spanish accent (she immigrated to Canada from South America when she was little). I just though of it as the way she speaks. Since everyone speaks so differently already, it’s way harder to predict where they’re from! Unless they’re from Newfoundland (google the Newfoundland accent!)

5. People are incredibly polite and wonderfully friendly!

I was happy to discover “sorry” is just as prevalent here as it is at home! While I was slightly worried about having trouble connecting with formal, tight-lipped students-I’ve found the opposite is true. The warmth and welcoming has gotten the adventure off to a great start!