An American Abroad: Life in Europe brings many cultural differences to light

Study Abroad

I have officially passed the one-month mark of living in Sunderland, England. I cannot believe that a month ago, I had no idea how to navigate Sunderland, use public transportation or live wholly on my own. All of it seems so normal now.
There are still parts of English (and European) culture I struggle to understand. Having lived in a small town in Pennsylvania all my life, accepting a new culture is an exciting challenge. I compiled a list of differences between English and American culture to give you a taste of how strange diving into a new culture can be.
1. America has cracked down on smoking policies. Smoking in restaurants and public spaces is prohibited. Smoking has lost its prevalence, and it seems that not as many people smoke anymore.
One of the first things I noticed about England was how many people smoked. This is more of an American versus European difference, as I noticed a smoking lounge inside the Amsterdam airport during my layover. Smoking is part of the culture, there’s no way around it.
2. Conversely, recycling in America consists of two bins; you either throw trash in the garbage bin or recycle it if you can. Glass, paper and plastic all go in one recycling bin. Throwing out trash in England requires four to six bins. These bins are labeled landfill waste, mixed paper, white paper, glass, plastic and aluminum cans. I still have to study the bin names before throwing out my trash.
3. Bigger cities in America use public transportation, but I am not used to buses, trains or the metro. Clarion has a bus system, but it’s small and localized. I have learned that if I want to go places, I need to walk or drive myself.
Transportation connects the entire country of England. I do a lot of walking to get to the store and classes. However, when my destination is too far, public transport is easily accessible. Buses run throughout the city and travel to surrounding cities. The metro has several stops within Sunderland and links to the neighboring city Newcastle upon Tyne. Trains travel anywhere from Edinburgh to London. I can explore the United Kingdom without ever having to set foot on a gas pedal.
4. Americans like to go out on Friday and Saturday nights. If they are feeling crazy, they’ll add Thursday in there, too.
The English do not go out on Thursday nights. My flatmates and I tried going out last Thursday, and every pub and club was dead. Other than the weekends, the popular nights to go out are Mondays and Wednesdays. Many bars have student discounts these nights. The English like to start their week off right.
5. Sidewalks in America are large slabs of flat pavement. Streets are smooth and paved.
England is full of old cobblestone streets. It took a week and me buying a sturdy pair of boots to adjust to the uneven sidewalks and bumpy roads. I avoid high heels at all costs, but don’t think for a minute this deters others. A night out is never complete without seeing dozens of girls tottering around in five-inch heels.
“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory” (George S. Patton).
Understanding English culture has been difficult at times, but I keep trying. My personal “victory” will be coming home at the end of my trip more confident, curious and well-traveled.
Until next time, cheers!

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