“Appreciation for cultural diversity is essential for our co-existence.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita
'What's different?' is a question I'm often asked, and often pondering naturally without even being prompted. It's literally the reason I'm here: to live and learn in a place that's unfamiliar. Growing up in one place sets you up with solidified expectations for daily life, so when immersed in a new environment you immediately start to pick up on everything.
It's really a collection of tiny differences, but it's the minute details that are the most fun of life, right?
Like spelling: Today a kid next to me asked aloud to me and the girl beside me, "Is 'defense' spelled with an 's' or a 'c'?" He was genuinely unsure, small details like this is easy to mix-up, we've all done it. I immediately replied, "S." Then hesitated, "Or, at least it is in the States..." The girl beside me kindly chimed in, "It's a 'c'," and he nodded and continued writing. I laughed because I thought it was an amusing interaction, but I in no way believe that with an 's' is the CORRECT spelling of "defense" (I mean, except let's be real, it looks better. Colour looks better with a 'u', defense looks better with an 's.' One language can't win them all) and I see how I was definitely the Annoying American in that instance. My b; Annoying American runs in my veins. (Proud and embarrassed all at once like a True American!)
Fashion is much more relaxed than I anticipated; when discussing European clothes, everyone warned about the faux pas of wearing leggings or looking at all not put together. But at least in Wales, while it is more common than not to be surrounded by people purposefully dressed well daily, there are still a lot of leggings on campus! It's really not that weird. I suppose it may be more the athletic types that sport this kind of (blegh) 'athleisure' look, but what do they know? I could be on my way to or from the gym in my leggings, as well. Just in general Wales is an extremely relaxed country. No one ever seems to be very worked up about things like bus schedules or service in restaurants, let alone pants. (Or, trousers?)
Boy, is service in restaurants different. It is very European for meals to be a long, relaxed experience rather than an American get-in get-out, but it is something that takes adjustment. I'm really not accustomed to being served slowly and lackadaisically and so it initially comes off as feeling very rude...but it's just different. They don't stop by the table more than maybe three times, unlike me who's been trained to be attentive to every whim of a patron and generally coddle them. In turn, I'm used to being coddled and so when my waiter is distant and hard to keep track of it really feels like a slight. I know it's not, I've been told it's considered rude for the waiter to be on top of you like they're rushing you out, so I'm working on giving myself over to the relaxed atmosphere. Restaurants are the definition of chill and man, that is so un-American. I never realized. It would definitely help if I stopped waiting until I'm absolutely, angrily starving to go out for a sit down meal...because it's going to take a while.
One of the strangest differences is that, despite the presence of four different types of garbage and recycling bins conveniently stationed beside every door on campus -- which is awesome, love the commonality of recycling -- people will leave trash laying around literally everywhere. It's not considered weird or impolite or basically littering to simply leave your trash where it lay when you get up and walk directly past the trash can on your way out. I was in the student union for a Halloween Movie Night (Hocus Pocus!!!!!!!!!!) and on my stroll to the bathroom I passed the Great Hall and it was buried in trash. Just piles of student garbage lining the walls waiting for some poor cleaning crew to come around and put it right again for the next day.
It's just interesting that my British peers seem to be so focused on the necessary politeness of thanking the bus driver for driving you home (great!!! Love it!) but so thoughtless to how simply throwing away your trash makes other peoples' job easier. Also, I'm sorry, it just makes sense and it doesn't leave your surroundings a mess. I just don't get it.
Currency is obviously different! While the exchange rate's not bomb all the time, it is exciting to collect a small (vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv small) fortune in several different currencies. Basically as long as there's someway to exchange currency before you get stuck in a British taxi with no way to pay the driver because you literally just got off a bus in the middle of no where an hour ago and its 4 AM and they don't have any ATMs within the vicinity...you're fine! It may be because I flew into Ireland first (aka the greatest country on Earth) but I'm super biased for the Euro and I don't even really know why or have a reason to be.
These are only little things I pick up on because they're just different enough to notice; It's not a drastically different culture here in Wales. Everyone is incredibly nice and I'm really thankful to have ended up here specifically. I'm loving it :)
An extra list of differences my American housemates added when I asked:
- children are eloquent as heck here, it's not just a British stereotype, they really do say things like "delightful"
- tight ass jeans on everyone all the time
- no ranch dressing
- paying for public bathrooms?!
- boys are way more aggressive at clubs
- they don't do ice here