British things I’m still getting used to as an international student

Don’t ever tell a stranger that you like their pants

Getting used to a new culture always presents a learning curve. The English culture certainly doesn’t give the biggest culture shock, But it gives a shock nonetheless. For all you international students and expats out there, I have no doubt you can relate. And for the English among you, here’s an insight into what we internationals see as mind-bogglingly strange. If it seems like I’m ignorant of any facet of your culture, it’s only because I am. Please don’t take it personally.

Here’s five things that I’m still trying to wrap my head around about this weird and wonderful culture.


The general politeness

I’ve often commented to my English friends on how polite most people in this country are, even to complete strangers. Whenever I bring up their politeness it’s always met with a bemused response, as if the English don’t even know how civil they are. It’s almost ingrained into them. The phrases “excuse me” and “you alright?” get thrown around countless times a day and it’s never not overwhelming. Maybe it’s just because I come from a country notorious for its abrasive people.

Don’t confuse ‘trousers’ with ‘pants’

This is a weird one. In almost every other English speaking country in the world, pants are what the British call ‘trousers’. You’d think that on its own this would be fine, but it turns out ‘pants’ have another meaning here: underwear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘I like your pants’ only to realise too late that I’ve just accidentally and rather creepily flirted with someone.

Nice pants, wait, sorry, I mean trousers

Nice pants, wait, sorry, I mean trousers

How efficient the postal service is

Now, this may not surprise internationals from other first-world countries, but HOT DAMN, parcels and mail get delivered fast. I can order something online today and it can arrive tomorrow, even in Cornwall. In South Africa, where I’m from, you’ll be lucky if you get your post, like, ever.

The style of education

This is hands down the hardest one for me to get used to. English education is to the schooling system that I grew up with what Mother Theresa is to Genghis Khan. The teachers and lecturers are for the most part so accommodating of everyone and so passive. Some of my teachers at school were aggressive and didn’t care if anyone disliked what they were saying, and that was seen as totally okay for them to be like that. Perhaps this ties in with the whole politeness thing,  but it seems that my lecturers at uni have this “can’t offend anyone” approach. It’s uncannily humanising.

The crazy love for tea


You can’t walk into anyone’s home here without immediately being offered a cup of tea. I know it’s a stereotype about English people and one that I didn’t want to perpetuate but I just can’t help it. Tea is seen by the general populace as an elixir of life, a drink that brings friends and enemies together and soothes the existential dread accumulated during the day-to-day.

As abnormal as I find these things, I’ve also developed quite an affinity towards them. There are a few things I’ve got used to already, such as the great English humour, and I have no doubt that I’ll get used to these too in time.  It’s a great ride, and one I’m thoroughly enjoying. I miss my own culture’s mannerisms, but a place like England has equally enjoyable ways of life that make living abroad the eye-opening and beautiful experience that it is.