Emma: London vs. Boston: Important British Life hacks to Know Before Studying Abroad Across the Pond

Let’s get the formalities out of the way here, people. I know, if you’re considering going abroad and/or have read your way through this blog, you’ve seen various tips on applying and making the most out your experience. That said, I just have to repeat really fast how incredible going abroad can be. Lucky for you, COM makes it very possible.

Now that we have that covered, I’m here to offer up some advice to those who’ve just been accepted to the London program. First off, CONGRATS, you’re going to have the experience of your lives (sorry, I know, we’ve covered this. Last time, I promise). Anyways, in many ways, living in London is like Boston. You’ve already got the city life know-how’s down for the most part, and you already speak the language, so that adds an extra layer of comfortability.

That said, there are some things about London that are very different than the US, things you wouldn’t necessarily expect or know before coming here. Lucky for you, I’ve been noting some of these things down, and organized the top 50 into a nice, neat list for your scrolling pleasure. I’m sure there’s more than 50, but I’ll cap it at that as to not overwhelm you. Plus, it’s no fun if I ruin all the surprises.

London-bound friends, enjoy! And just make sure you know your lefts and rights before you get here.

  1. You probably already know this, but the British drive on the left side of the road. I’m only repeating this because it WILL confuse you and I do not want to see you get hit by a black cab.
  2. On that same note, pedestrians do not have the right of way. Don’t expect cars to stop for you at crosswalks unless the walk sign is on
  3. Check the pound-to-dollar ratio DAILY. London is very expensive and it’s easy to get suckered into paying $5.50 for a tiny coffee if you aren’t paying attention
  4. Speaking of coffee, your regular drip coffee is few and far between. Time to get really into espresso or do the budget approach (like me right now) and adopt a fond appreciation for instant coffee
  5. Street signs are usually attached to buildings, so be sure to look up when you’re looking for where to go
  6. If you think the squirrels in Boston Common are bad, just wait until you meet the giant pigeons and swans of all London parks
  7. Trash cans are basically mythical creatures, that’s how few of them there are
  8. Eggs: they are NOT refrigerated, and will likely be orange BUT they are delicious
  9. London is BIG, much bigger than Boston. Always check to see if where you want to go is a walkable distance first
  10. Restaurant service is much more relaxed. It’s usually on you to ask for the check
  11. Tipping is different than is the U.S. Tip what you’re comfortable with, but typically for dinner service, the standard is 12.5% (but be sure to see if your bill already has it included)
  12. It is never one weather pattern all day. ALWAYS have a raincoat/umbrella on you
  13. “Everybody Loves Raymond” is always on TV here for whatever reason
  14. Fries = chips and they are NOT as good as American fries (luckily, McDonald’s serves regular fries if you need a fix)
  15. The tube is awesome, but the etiquette is different than the T. Prime example: no one talks on the tube. As my marketing professor said when I asked her about it, “It’s just not done, darling.”
  16. Personal opinion: the peanut butter here is terrible
  17. When you walk into a building from the street, you are on the ground floor. What we consider the second floor is the first floor
  18. Oftentimes, you have to order drinks and food at the bar directly
  19. Not as many places are open late, so plan your late-night snacks accordingly
  20. Sometimes, you have to pay to use public restrooms (always have change on you)
  21. BU tip: washing machines are EXPENSIVE. Not saying to wait until you’re down to your last lone sock, but definitely wait until you have a substantial load
  22. Tea and scones are amazing in every capacity, I promise
  23. Coin and bill size is confusing. Example: the pound is significantly smaller than the 2 and 50 pence coins
  24. Emergency exits are green
  25. Lights turn yellow before they turn red AND green
  26. Cadbury is better than Hershey’s. This is a fact. Also, be sure to try a Cadbury McFlurry, it will change you
  27. If there’s one H&M nearby, there’s probably 6 others within a one-mile radius
  28. The British appreciate pastries at every meal and it’s awesome
  29. British people are quiet, but awesome, especially people who work on public transport
  30. Train language is very different. On the T, they’ll yell at you to get behind the yellow line. On the tube, it’s “please mind the gap”
  31. Be mindful of how much history is behind Britain every day, it’s really so cool
  32. Curb = kerb, tire = tyre
  33. Z = zed, a line = a queue
  34. The “@” button is in a different place on keyboards
  35. The British JUST got cookie dough. Currently being marketed (only) at Whole Foods as “an American delicacy”
  36. Uber may or may not be here when you get here
  37. Convenience stores are not always super convenient
  38. It never gets too cold here, but 70 degrees will feel hot
  39. Mail boxes: they look like large fire hydrants and are actually called post boxes
  40. Paper size is bigger (use A4 when formatting)
  41. The food here has few to no preservatives, which is great, but just buy what you need at the store because it goes bad fast
  42. Usually, grocery bags cost 5 pence each, so save money and bring your own
  43. Take-out = take-away, and usually prices between eating in and taking away are different
  44. Imperial College, which is right next to BU’s buildings, has the best farmer’s market on Tuesday. Would 100% recommend hummus from The Bow Belly
  45. I have yet to go to Nando’s *gasp* but that is a very big, popular chain here
  46. Tesco = Cit Co., Sainsbury’s = Star Market, Waitrose = bfresh, Whole Foods = Whole Foods
  47. Strikes are a big thing here, so always read up on the news and plan your trips accordingly
  48. London’s main airports for travel: Heathrow (you’ll be flying in here most likely, but you probably won’t travel to and from it as much), Stansted, and Gatwick. All of them take significant time to get to, so plan trips accordingly
  49. Citymapper and Sky Scanner are god-sends
  50. Always always use a private browser when searching for flights/trains/hostels (saves you $$$)
  51. BONUS: T.J. Maxx is T.K. Maxx, and the one by campus does not sell homegoods, like towels (you can get cheap towels at Sainsbury’s. Avoid being like me, who did not know this, went to buy one Marks & Spencers the first day, and ended up being stuck with a beach towel for the rest of the semester)

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