The perils of emigrating to the UK

Going to university gives most of us the perk of meeting people from all sorts of cultural and social backgrounds. Having emigrated to the UK myself when I was quite little (but probably nearly the same height as I am now), I’m no stranger to the little quirks of the UK that could trip up those who are uninitiated. A few days ago I got the chance to catch up with a friend and had a laugh about some of our own experiences of adjusting to another country. It really is funny in retrospect and was too good a conversation topic not to share.

Really, Sherlock? You are clever!

Yeah. Sarcasm.

Most Britons have been fed a diet of irony with a side of wit since they were babies: it’s no wonder that sarcasm is the trademark of British humour. Trouble is, very few countries use the art of sarcasm as eloquently and frequently as the British do. It’s akin to a foreign language to those new to the UK. Honestly, it’s nearly impossible to figure out when someone speaks from the bottom of their heart or is yanking your leg when you’re just starting out. The numerous opportunities for pitfalls ensure that you’re permanently on your toes for the first few months when you’re in conversation.

The fear of inconveniencing others

You know that thing you do when you’re at a supermarket and the cashier hands you the change in notes and coins and you panic because half the groceries aren’t bagged up yet and OH MY GOODNESS the person behind you is waiting? Yeah, I’m sure that’s a uniquely British thing.

After a while here some of this social phobia of being inconvenient to people because we’re just existing and minding our own business kinda gets instilled into us. Before we know it, we start saying sorry to the guy who bumped into us because he had his eyes fixed on his phone. Madness.

Umbrellas are dangerous

Okay, so rain is fine. We can deal with that. The half hearted drizzle that drenches you to the very soul coupled with the overzealous wind that drives the water sideways into your eyes? What are we supposed to do with that? Raincoats sadly do not protect your glasses from the giant water droplets. Braving it might seem feasible until you realise that the drizzle is in fact quite deceiving and you end up waterlogged. And umbrellas?

Many umbrellas have met their end turned inside out and snapped like matchsticks on my watch. Many more have threatened to impale themselves into the eyes of poor, unsuspecting souls that had the misfortune to walk near you at an inopportune time. If anybody does have a solution to this rain problem, do let us know. I haven’t figured it out yet.

Accents

It’s hard enough learning English. When listening to people with thick, regional accents, you might as well be speaking another dialect for all the sense we can make out sometimes (I’m looking at you, Glaswegians). Deciphering accents from all over the country is an art. On a related note:

There is a legitimate reason a lot of foreigners speak in an American accent

If your initial schooling took place in Asia, there’s a good chance that your English teacher taught you American English, as opposed to British English (there’s more of a difference than you’d think). I distinctly remember asking a friend for ‘an eraser’ once in primary school and finding out that just earned me blank looks and a few giggles. Luckily, my English education pre-emigration wasn’t exactly advanced enough for it to pose much of a problem.

Celebrating diversity

Whichever country someone emigrated from, there’s always going to be a risk of sticking out like a sore thumb. Sometimes those times result in a wealth of material for a funny story. Other times it stings a little. Spending my early adolescence being vaguely, but constantly, aware that I’m a little bit different stopped me from fearing people who don’t fit into our little boxes but encouraged me to celebrate diversity. Despite the discomfort, confusion, social embarrassment, or pain of wrestling with renegade umbrellas, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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