You may be familiar with the notion of Culture Shock: It's the series of emotions one goes through over a period of time as you become accustomed to living in a different culture, from surprise and charm ('Look at all these live animals in this open air market! I must Instagram this!'), to shock ('They're going to do WHAT to this dog?'), to disgust ('I am NOT eating THAT. But I'll Instagram it'), to ennui ('Oh for God's sake. Dog Stew AGAIN') and finally to acceptance ('Hmm. This dog stew could do with a little more pepper and chili. I'll Instagram it anyway.')
Wherever you go in the world, things are done differently - and it's often the seemingly innocuous things that are more likely to grate upon the soul.
What about students coming to the UK? What do they find most difficult to get their heads around? This isn't a definitive list by any means, but it's the things that pop up from my students all the time. In no particular order:
1) Saying 'Alright?' as a way of greeting, or saying 'How are you?' and not waiting for the answerStudents are either bemused or infuriated by this, or both (befuriated, anyone?), and it simply comes down the fact that both seem to the language learner to be expressions of concern, rather than another way of saying hello. The stock responses, 'oh, not bad, not bad', and 'mustn't grumble' are also a good way of confusing students.
2) Saying 'Please' and 'Sorry' ALL THE TIMEWhile most languages have cognates for both words, very few cultures use them with the same enthusiastic frequency that British people do. What is possibly the oddest UK trait is the tendency to say sorry for something that is very clearly someone else's fault, as in 'Sorry, you appear to have knocked one of my teeth out whilst you were enthusiastically waving your hand around', or 'Your pointy stiletto heel appears to have pierced my foot as you stepped back in this overheated, crowded lift. Sorry.'
3) Avoiding looking at someone you know until you're really close to themStudents are perplexed at the habit of people who, when they sight someone they know at a distance, will then engage in a strange gavotte of movements that mean they never lock eyes on their acquaintance until the very last second, at which point they let out a slightly too eager greeting, such as 'Gosh! Hello! Fancy seeing you here!'
4) The intonation sounds false and actorlyAsk students their opinions about the English and one thing that tends to come up sooner or later is that we are two faced. Partly this is to do with the way the average Brit hedges their bets when giving an opinion, e.g. 'it's quite good', i.e. it's bloody fantastic, or 'it was interesting', i.e. it was bloody awful. There's an awful lot of linguistic decoding necessary to work your way through this semantic minefield, and it's not helped by the fact that the range of intonation in English is remarkably wide. Our high notes, when expressing surprise, shock or just asking questions are very high, and our low notes, when bringing a sentence to an end or when Jeremy Clarkson wants to add an ironic coda to his sentences, are very low. To many non-native speakers, this can sound incredibly artificial.
5) The number of accents
The UK is a truly extraordinary place in terms of the range of accents you encounter - just going along the M4 from London to Cardiff shows you how different the way we speak is.
6) Carpets in the bathroom
7) Wearing shoes indoorsMany of my learners are surprised by the tendency we Brits have to wear shoes indoors, until they try taking their own shoes off. They quickly realise that unless you have feet containing lava, you quickly freeze from the bottom up. Having said that....
8) Babies wearing virtually no clothes, even in winterEvery single one of my students has commented on this at one stage or another. They look aghast at the fact that every baby they see on the streets seems to have as few layers on as possible. That and the fact that their mothers all seem to be 16 years old and overweight.
9) Needing a licence for a TV
10) GPs and Paracetamol
|"Your leg's fallen off and you have TB-have some Paracetamol"|