If you’re reading this and you’re from the United States, I believe I’m safe in assuming that your idea of a biscuit is the thick, buttery, flour-based side you get at Popeye’s. Well, in England, a biscuit is basically an animal cracker, but even thinner… and more boring. I suppose it’s a little ironic that I’m knocking on them so hard when in fact they’ve been a consistent item on my grocery list since I arrived here; they’re humble little snacks, and they do go well with tea. To put things another way: when you ask for a biscuit here in England, you’ll be in for a real shocker. Thankfully you have me and my insightful writings to educate and enlighten you :). If you want a real biscuit, you’ll want to ask for a scone–a “buttery scone” if you want something similar to Popeye’s (though, of course, their biscuits could never be replicated).
This isn’t where the differences end, and they are not limited to vocabulary. The most immediate difference to me was that traffic, both car and pedestrian, runs on the left side of the street. When I first arrived to Heathrow Airport, I noticed that my moving walkway was on the right side of the other walkway. Similarly, I’ve observed that escalators follow the same layout. This becomes much more of a safety hazard on the roads, especially for Americans who are used to looking left first, and MOST especially for Americans who are anything like myself when it comes to crossing the street–aka notorious for walking out with no care for common sense. Still, after a month, I find the habit of looking right instead of left first pretty hard to get into. Generally I have also noticed that people drive faster here as well, both in urban and suburban areas. Traffic lights will also flash yellow with a red light before a light turns green, so the yellow light signals both to slow down and start up. Needless to say, my jaywalking won’t bid me well over here. It certainly is an important lesson in the importance of extra caution in foreign lands.
Grocery shopping is also an opportunity for cultural learning. Here, the cash register is referred to as the “till,” and almost everything is closed on Sunday (if it’s not closed for the entire day, it will close very early). I learned this lesson the hard way this past Sunday when I arrived at ALDI around 15:50 (3:50pm; “military time”/24-hr clock is the more commonly used time-telling format in England), ten minutes before its scheduled closing time. You can imagine my surprise as a South Philadelphian who grew up only minutes away from an ACME where the closing time was 10pm (22:00).
These quiet Sundays are not just limited to Norwich; ALDI stores across London follow a similar Sunday schedule, closing only an hour later. These quiet Sundays communicate to me that the English as an entire country take the concept of “day of rest” very seriously. Despite the fact that I can’t go on a late-night ice cream run (which I never do anyways so I guess this really doesn’t affect me negatively at all) this emphasis on rest and quiet is one of the aspects of English society that I greatly admire. One day a week where people can be assured some sort of break from the regular work grind of the week is recognition of the fact that, both physically and emotionally, we need a break from work, whatever it is that we do for a living.
* It’s Abbey Road! The picture doesn’t quite illustrate the massive number of people waiting to get that famous photo… much to the dismay of the poor drivers who have to wait for them; during rush hour, the traffic really piles up.