Moving to a new country can often be a nerve-racking experience — take it from someone who’s done it twice in the past decade. What are you going to do for a job? How will you make friends? And, more importantly, will you ever find a local Thai takeaway as good as the one you just moved away from? (The answer is no).
I first arrived in the UK in September 2016. Prior to this, I had been living in Australia for five years after moving there from my native New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand are relatively similar in terms of culture and climate, although Australia is hotter and has way more bugs. But the UK? It’s a whole different ball game.
I learnt this the hard way during my first winter here. I finally understood the need for a good winter coat, gained a few pounds after indulging in all of the novelty food items (I was not prepared for the deliciousness of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges) and realised that snow, and the ice that subsequently comes with it, is more menacing than magical when you live in a city.
Five and a half years on and I’m still getting to grips with British quirks — just last week I learnt that hot dogs are the go-to food to eat at fireworks night. Who knew? (British people did, that’s who.) Here are all the things I still can’t wrap my head around.
1. Washing machines in kitchens
This makes zero sense. Why would you have a washing machine in the same room where you cook your food? Surely you don’t want your clean clothes to smell of garlic? And what if your clean washing falls on the floor and picks up the crumbs that are inevitably there? Someone needs to explain the logic of this to me ASAP.
2. Tubs in the sink
Speaking of kitchens, why, WHY, does anyone keep a tub in the sink? Is a sink … not already a tub? What’s the need for a second tub? If you want to fill it up to hand wash the dishes then surely you would just put the plug in the sink? It seems superfluous to me but then I hail from a place where the national dish is cooked underground, so …
3. Pre-chopped vegetables
C’mon guys, why would you pay £1.50 for carrot sticks when you can buy an entire bag of carrots for 57p and make your own carrot sticks for a whole week? And, on that note, why are all of your fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic? You can hardly expect us to live a plastic-free existence when literally all of our fresh food comes in cellophane.
4. Game shows
The Chase, Pointless, The Weakest Link, Limitless Win, The Wall, The Wheel, Mastermind, Only Connect, University Challenge, Countdown, Catchphrase, 8 out of 10 Cats … I get it, game shows are fun, but do we really need all of them? I was really not prepared for the game show culture here in the UK. Even the people who aren’t regular viewers seem to know all the rules. Who has the time in their week to watch all of these? I’ll never know.
5. How you pronounce Gloucestershire
The first time I said “Gloucestershire” to my (British) partner he asked me to repeat myself. “Gl-ow-sest-er-shire,” I said. This, I soon learned, was not how it was pronounced. I made sure to check before I even attempted Biecester and I’ve never dared attempt to tackle Cholmondeley. Do you guys just hate foreigners? Don’t answer that…
6. The love-hate relationship with the royals
I grew up admiring the royal family from afar and was excited to immerse myself in the royal-loving culture when I moved to the UK. But, as it turns out, most people seem to think the royals are a waste of time and taxpayer resources. Besides, you know, when there’s a royal wedding or a Jubilee which means we get an extra bank holiday.
So many people in the UK are casual smokers — and everyone’s OK with it. I knew the French did it but I never realised it was a thing here. What decade are we in, the nineties?
8. The great scone debate
I’m all for an English afternoon tea — so fun, so fancy — but the whole scone debate threw me when I first moved over here. I thought putting the jam on first was a given? But then I discovered clotted cream which landed me firmly on the fence (we use whipped cream in the southern hemisphere, don’t @ me).
9. Brussels sprouts
These small cabbages have no taste? I’ll never understand why anyone eats them — especially at Christmas when there are so many other lovely and delicious-tasting vegetables available.
10. Road signs
Maybe I just need to buy a copy of the highway code but how on earth are you meant to know what speed to go on what roads? There’s no speed signage anywhere besides the occasional national speed limit sign and often this sign can be found on one-lane country roads where you should be going 30mph tops.
11. Anyone from New Zealand is Australian now
It doesn’t matter whether you hail from Australia or New Zealand, if your accent sounds anything like a Neighbours’ character then you’ll automatically be classed as an Australian. Oh, and when you clarify that you’re from New Zealand they’ll ask if you know their friend who lives there which, to be fair, you probably will.
12. Christmas starts on 1 October
It wasn’t the cold weather that shocked me during my first British Christmas. No, it was the fact that Christmas begins three months before the actual day. My only reasoning is that winter can be so bleak over here that we all need something joyful to get behind. And don’t even get me started on Christmas adverts … what’s all the fuss about?
13. Two bank holidays in May
Hear me out: Why don’t we think about … spreading the bank holidays out a little? Why are there two in May? It makes no sense. Basically, we get four in Spring, only one in Summer and zero in Autumn? What logic is that?
14. Caterpillar-shaped cakes
In my first job in the UK I was given a caterpillar-shaped cake on my birthday, completely not understanding that this was the done thing. However it was delicious and I (sort of) understand why M&S is so protective over it …
15. Naked Attraction
What I don’t understand is how they keep finding so many people to get completely naked on national television. I thought this was a nation of prudes? You proved me wrong the first time I switched over and got a full-frontal of a penis on my TV screen.
16. Black pudding
It’s definitely not the Black Forest gateau-type dessert I first thought it was when I moved over here. “Why is there a pudding on a breakfast menu?” I asked my friends who encouraged me to order it. I never ordered it again.
17. Elections are only held every five years
While US elections are held every four years, in both Australia and New Zealand, general elections are held every three years. This, in my opinion, is the sweet spot for the longevity of a politician. By the end you either love them or you hate them. But five years? No matter who it is, you’re probably well over them by that point. Need I mention our current partygate situation… how long has it been? Oh yes, coming up on three years is it?
18. So many accents
In the UK it seems the dialect differs almost from town to town. Five years in and I think I can just about tell a Geordie accent from a Scouse. Almost.
19. Spotted dick
Banger’s and mash, spotted dick, toad in the hole, Eton mess, bubble and squeak, pigs in a blanket, knickerbocker glory, rumbledethumps … all of these are just words and don’t make the slightest sense.
20. You can do a day trip to another country
When we’re not going through a global pandemic, it’s easy to jump on a Eurostar and do a day trip to Paris. This will never cease to amaze me.
Some advice to anyone looking to move to the UK: learn to like tea. For office workers, it’s akin to that episode of Friends where Rachel starts to smoke because her colleagues take smoking breaks and she wants to be included. A tea break is the UK equivalent.
22. Heatwave herd mentality
In Australia, 17C is a midwinter day. In England, it’s a sign that everyone will be in the park with their clothes off sunbathing by lunchtime.
I still don’t get it.
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