Walking up stairs, absurdly hot water, & other things I don't understand

Allison Bruns
June 25, 2018

When coming to London, I didn’t think that there would really be any culture shock. I mean, I recently spent time in China, so I felt like if I could handle that, I could handle anything. As it turns out, there are still differences between the US and UK that I wasn’t prepared for. Here’s a list of the top things that have confused me culturally since landing 2 weeks ago.

  1. “You okay?”

The other day, I ran into one of my British friends. Her greeting to me was “Hi! You okay?”, which confused me on so many levels. To an American, asking if someone is okay generally comes with the presumption that the person is not okay. You’d say the phrase if you saw someone trip in the street or looking very upset. However, to a Brit, this is a common greeting and essentially means the same thing as “How are you?”. Imagine my confusion when, on a day where I was particularly happy and having a good day, she asked me if I was okay!

  1. Walking up (or down, for that matter) stairs

In the States, you are brought up learning that you walk up the right side of the stairs and go down the left. When I first got to London, I was doing exactly that. After a while, I realized that other walkers were clearly not happy with me whenever I was on stairs. After many days of confusion and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, I realized a very small but important difference between the US and UK. Brits drive on the other side of the street than Americans, which probably translates to walking up or down stairs. In the US, we drive on the right side, therefore we walk up the right side. Backwards driving equals backwards stair etiquette, a lesson which took me many mistakes to figure out.

  1. Absurdly hot water

British tap water can be a lot hotter than American tap water. I mean a LOT. I’m not entirely sure what this difference is caused by, but I burned myself on the water multiple times before I remembered that turning up the faucet to the hottest degree was not a good idea. Tap water gets much hotter, so please be careful when turning it on.

  1. Escalator etiquette

Not going to lie, I genuinely wish this practice was adopted in the US. It will only take one escalator ride to see the difference between the US and UK. In the UK, if you want to stand on the escalator, you stand on the right. If you want to walk up the escalator, you walk up the left side. It was actually a little eerie for me at first. In the US, you stand wherever you want, and no one thinks much of it. I attached a picture just so you all can see just how strictly this practice is followed. In the end, it gets large groups of people up the escalator and makes for a better experience for everyone to have a side for standers and a side for walkers.

  1. Flushing toilets

I legitimately had to look up how to flush a British toilet. Yes, they look exactly the same as American toilets. No, I’m not kidding. I cannot accurately express how frustrating it was to not be able to flush a toilet. I mean, a Western toilet is a Western toilet, right? Wrong. As it turns out, there is a specific technique to be able to flush it. I won’t go into it because it is quite hard to describe the difference, but just know. It is different, it is challenging, but once you get it, you’ve got it.

Whatever country you go to, it will be different from your home. There will be moments that will frustrate you (like for me, standing in the bathroom, trying to figure out how to flush the toilet and getting increasingly angry by the minute), but putting yourself in a new environment is always a good idea. I was tempted to not share my culture shock moments in order to look like a professional study abroad-er who can handle anything, but the reality is that there will be moments that you, like me, will not understand how to do basic things. So far, I have found the key to be to not take yourself too seriously, have patience, and be willing to be humble and ask for help. Culture shock, wherever you choose to go, is real, but being in a new, exciting place makes all of those moments worth it.

Allison Bruns

<p>Hello, I'm Allison! I am a Public Relations major and I am very passionate about travelling the world and learning about different cultures. I am a serious foodie, and one of my favorite parts of travelling is being able to experience culture through food in the place I'm in. I spent my Winter Break this year in China which was probably my favorite trip I've been on! When I am not flying or taking a road trip, I love all things history. Here's a fun fact about me: when I take study breaks, go on The History Channel website and read different articles about whatever is going on in the history world. I am so excited to be spending time in London and to learn about all of the history and culture there!</p>

2018 Summer 1, 2018 Summer 2, 2019 Spring
Home University:
Indiana University
Cincinnati, OH
Public Relations
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