We asked London’s international students about their biggest culture shocks

‘English bread f*king sucks. Like seriously’

Every year, flocks of international students arrive in the UK for unis that boast “world-class education”, terrible weather, and a 18+ drinking age, with London being a particularly popular international hub.

But from the daily “run for your life” moments at timed traffic lights to turning up to your 9am seminar hungover after sports night, are they prepared for the crazy culture shocks they’re about to face?

As this week marks International Festival at UCL, The London Tab gathered what international students found shocking about our lovely city. And trust us: they have a lot to say.

You call this ‘bread’?

Our callout IG story sparked a passionate rant from German international Alexej: “English bread f*king sucks. Like seriously. Coming here from Germany, I’ve actually stopped eating bread just because this bad excuse for cardboard that English people call bread is genuinely harrowing to me.

“How hard can it be to make some decent bread that doesn’t have to be toasted to be enjoyable?” he said.

And this is not the only complaint German students have about the English pantry: Juna told The London Tab that her biggest cultural shock is the “very limited variety of jams in the supermarket.”

What’s wrong with Hartleys?

Proud Brit chickens

Moving onto another part of the grocery store, a LSE international told The London Tab: “I mean, I get that buying local is great, but is it really necessary to slap ‘British’ on every single packages of chicken drumsticks at Tesco?”

We don’t know, is it?

‘World-class education’ for the bare minimum of work

Anika from Shanghai was shocked by how you can do the literal bare minimum and still pass in unis that are globally renowned for the quality of education.

Yes, we are taking this personally and you should too.

Another international student, Alicia, further complained that “some people just spend half the week blackout drunk and still succeed.” But she understands that uni life is “all about what you make of it.” So whether you want it to be about drinking, passing out in the Ministry toilets, or actually studying – you’re the one paying for it in the end.

What’s personal space?

Elli, a UCL international student, is surprised to see that everyone hugs in the UK.

“I need my personal space, it just feels weird,” she said.

Okay, it’s fair to think that hugging someone you’ve only met a few times is weird. (Anyone from countries where a kiss on the cheeks is the norm *ahem, France* is thoroughly offended now.)

People are always apologising, but not on the road

Speaking of getting into personal spaces, Alessio from Italy said to The London Tab: “I was really surprised when I bumped into someone in the streets and heard the person apologise, like, why?”

This happens all the time in the UK: saying “sorry” every time someone does something to you. But, according to Alessio, in Italy “it’s more like most people don’t say sorry especially if it’s a small thing like inadvertently walking on your foot.”

Still, cars would rather kill you than wait for you to cross the streets; anyone living in London for more than two months would’ve been trained into master jaywalkers.

Let’s be honest: who really wants to walk all the way to the crossing by the Cruiform when you just need to cross the narrow street to the UCL main entrance?

Fancy ‘little pen’

Spanish international Tom said: “Where I come from, people smoke fags or IQOS, and I was pretty shocked coming here as I realised everyone has this little pen looking vape in a variety of colours.”

We didn’t know it was a British specialty to have solo vapes instead of traditional USB-looking ones, but they say you learn something new everyday. Just look at the people outside the student centre going through five Lychee Ice Juuls a week.

By the way, you guys are still nic addicts, as much as you’d argue otherwise.

Drinking culture

On the same note, many internationals agreed that the British drinking culture is “hardcore.”

Lea from France said: “I thought it was already pretty bad [back home], but it seems like it’s on a whole other level here in the UK.”

After all, we all remember going to Lidl on Halloween to find the entire Vodka section empty (alongside the beer section) and searching to find Tesco’s own brand Peach Schnapps for pres.


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