The past week has been so busy! I’ve been in and out of induction ceremonies and orientations for various aspects of school (International students, Health studies, my institute, and my programme). And although I heard a lot of information repeated, I’m so glad that I went to all of the events because I met lots of people. The first few days I met mostly Americans…we kind of clumped together out of a desire to talk to someoneeee who would understand the frustration of the visa process, the various opinions of friends and family back in the states, how we’re trying to stop converting pounds to dollars in our heads (and consequently getting depressed at how expensive everything is) and our favorite little quirks about London and Londoners so far.
Among many things, we discussed the very different way of speaking. People in the states surely cannot grasp the intricacies of the English English language.
Most students had just arrived a couple of days ago and so I enjoyed getting to share my limited knowledge with them including how things are pronounced. The speaker kept referring to a book called London A-Z (pronounced A-Zed). The other three Americans were confused and I filled them in on how zebra is pronounced here (zeh-brah, not zEE-bra). That one didn’t take long to pick up on.
But I don’t know when I’m going to understand how ‘W’s are pronounced here. There is an area of town and subsequent tube stop called Southwark (to the best of my knowledge, pronounced Suthuck), there is another part of town called Southwyck (pronounced either the exact same or very similarly). Apparently W’s are just placed in the middle of words for the fun of it. I did make a bit of a fool out of myself when on the tube I asked Lou if we were stopping at Leicester (I pronounced as it looks…lie-chester). Turns out it is pronounced Lester. I’m not sure in what language that spells Lester, but I won’t make the mistake again.
During orientation we had an hour dedicated to learning English slang (some of which I already knew):
- Pants: underwear…you have to say trousers if you mean pants, which I can’t get myself to do without snickering.
- Loo: the bathroom and also a word that I cannot get myself to say because my boyfriend’s name is Lou. Therefore proclaiming, “I need to use the Lou” is just not something I can do.
- Rubber: eraser. I was the only American who knew this didn’t mean condom! I was quite proud of myself and also entertained by their astonishment at seeing the word printed on a university handout.
And also some that I didn’t know:
- Numpty: a stupid person
- Blag: to persuade
- Narky: grumpy
After our crash course in UK Culture, we moved to a lecture hall to learn about the Academic Culture. As the four of us Americans sat near the back giggling at how nearly every word can end in ‘r’ (examples: idea-r, area-r, shadow-r). Just another quirk of the English English language! It was here that we learned that the UK grading policy is drastically different than in the US. Undergraduates don’t receive letter grades (instead they have 1st, 2:1, 1:2, etc.), but postgraduates do (thank goodness!).
However, an ‘A’ is a 70 or above.
I don’t know about the other Americans in the auditorium, but all four of our jaws dropped. When the speaker then revealed that a 75 is very, very good, and it is very rare to receive above an 85 I think that our eyes popped out of our heads a bit.
And then! He says “This may be a bit different for some of you from North America. In America, they actually give out 100’s and 110’s!” And then the whole auditorium burst into laughter!!We all looked at each other. Of course they give out 100’s in America! If you get 100% of the answers correct, you get 100%! We all got to this point in our lives, attending a top university and very selective programmes by not accepting anything less than 100%! This will perhaps be the hardest adjustment for me to make in my move to the UK.
After that earth shattering information, we obviously needed a drink (also it was about a bazillion degrees in the air conditioning-less auditorium). And so the four of us went to explore the area. We found a nice “Mexican” restaurant that served both the most delicious and miniscule margaritas. Really all of the dishes were tiny. Portion size is something difficult to adjust to (especially portions that are affordable), but I see how there are so many thin people in London!
Dividing the bill turned out to be a bit difficult. I was the only one paying with a card and the others struggled with the currency. They collected the money okay, but when one started to re-count to make sure that everything added up, she counted off £1 coins “5, 10, 15”. “No, no, no! Those aren’t nickels!”
Ahh it is so good to be around some Americans…although I’m pretty sure that the wait staff hated us. And that everyone in our section of the restaurant experienced our currency struggles at a high volume.
Also, many Americans are probably familiar with the signs in bars and restaurants that state “We ID 60 and under!!!” or something to that degree. In the UK, the signs read, “If you appear under 25, please do not be offended if we ask to see ID”. Coincidentally, the first time that I was ID-ed this summer was in the UK.
Some other numbers that have bewildered me a bit is simply all of the numbers that you have to memorize (or at least have handy). For me this includes passport number, visa number, phone number (which is 11 numbers instead of the rhythmic 10 in the US), student ID number, student email number (which of course aren’t the same, and are similar enough to be easily confused), National Insurance Number, National Health Services number, banking numbers (card number, PIN number, online banking number, telephone banking number, etc.) It goes on an on! And I am not good with numbers!!
And finally, to wrap up my post on letters and numbers, three little letters that are sure to create an uncomfortable situation: PDA. The PDA witnessed in London is probably not unlike the teeth gnashing and tongue attacking that you’ve seen from any hormone plagued teenager in the US. But I’m not talking about just teenagers. I’ve seen all ages! Including full-grown adults. And all nationalities! People are gettin’ it on in the middle of parks, on public transportation, and in the middle of footpaths. I really thought that this would be part of the Europoean culture that I would be open to (not that I was open to take part), but I’ve found that it makes me very awkward. It’s icky.
Despite the frenzy of the past week, the city has started to feel more like home. I’ve gotten to know my way around a little bit, I have people I can text to go grab a drink (coffee or beer), and Lou has started his new job!
And now I have a Programme Handbook to devour!