An international students view on British culture
Marmite is disgusting.
Student life in Southampton is quite exiting, especially when you’re not from the UK and confronted with British culture for the first time. New experiences, shocks and surprises were to be expected.
I’m from Hamburg, Germany, studying English in my third year and currently on my Erasmus-Exchange in Southampton. I haven’t lived in the UK before and all my knowledge about British culture is based on textbooks which I used to read school and were pure cliches. Turns out, the cultures of Germany and England are very different.
Apparently, British people are able to eat greasy, heavy food for breakfast (including bacon, eggs, toast and beans) without a problem! They seem to like it and are still able to move after this. And a lot of places offer breakfast all day, including the university canteen, so maybe the word breakfast doesn’t necessarily mean that you consume the meal in the morning?
As well as breakfast, a variety of takeaway meals from all nations is available. I’ve got the impression that cooking is not so fashionable amongst British students, but they have that in common with German students.
My answer to the crucial Marmite-question is definitely NO. I have problems finding words for this exceptionally weird taste, and I don’t understand how anyone can like it.
My favourite place to eat that I’ve found so far is Sprinkles. Sorry Italy, but Southampton has the best ice cream and waffles – it tastes like heaven.
One thing I realised just recently is that politeness plays a major role in conversations. Wherever you go and you need something, the supermarket, the doctor, the students’ office – without sticking to some basic rules, you won’t make it far. My “German directness” has probably offended cashiers and shop assistants more than once before I realised my mistakes. First, I used “thank you” and “please” not enough, and second, I asked too many questions.
With fellow British students, it is never wrong to use the word “cheers”, also for thanking or saying goodbye. Before I came here, I only used it in the context of drinking. But British people do drink a lot, and often become more and more cheerful after a pint or two so maybe “cheers” has more meaning to it.
A night out in the UK is very different from a night out in Germany. You leave earlier and drink more, sometimes have pre-pre drinks and make your way through different pubs until you get to a club. Germans say “bar” instead of “pub” and don’t have specific rules in these places. I’ve learnt that pub culture starts in the afternoon and includes much more than only pre-drinking; a pub is the place for various social events.
After hearing many stories about Southampton’s legendary nightclub Jesters, some good ones but predominantly bad ones, I finally went there last week. On a Tuesday, which is supposed to be quite light compared to Mondays. And, surprisingly, I had a really good time. Bad music, an extremely sweet but somehow good Jesticle and lots of people having fun. I had a moment of confusion when the DJ announced “you know what time it is” (I didn’t know) and everyone on the dance floor took their shirts off and danced excessively to the Baywatch theme tune. The full Jesters experience was completed when, just as I was about to leave the club, someone puked all over me. Not my favourite part of the evening, but overall the night out was not bad. It’s not unlikely that I’ll soon go to Jesters again.
After all, I’m here for academic reasons, so I have to study once in a while. I have only missed one seminar so far, because I was too tired from the last evening. I sometimes feel that I am better prepared than my native classmates. I also talk more in seminars, I guess I am just used to a different style of teaching.
The university here is really nice and studying in the library far more productive than at home. The contact hours here are less, but I have more self-study to do than in Germany. I haven’t figured out yet how the British students cope with all their coursework, reading list and still manage to go out almost every night. All the home students I’ve met so far are a member of at least three societies. Do they never sleep or do any work? I am yet to uncover this time-management secret.
All in all, I’m learning more about Southampton and British culture every day. I apologise for any former or future offensive behaviour, I’m definitely trying my best. I don’t regret coming here at all and if you’re still wondering whether going abroad is the right thing, just do it! I’m looking forward to the next few months full of more crazy Britishness!