It’s been already 3 and a half years since I came to this country and it may be that the memories grow sweeter with time but I don’t recall having any kind of culture shock such to say when I started to settle into the British soil. However that doesn’t mean there weren’t any surprises during my first year in London. And occasionally there still are. I made my mind very clear when I moved here that the two cultures aren’t same and I never wanted to compare what’s better or worse between the two capitals, London and Helsinki, after all every option has its pros and cons.
There may not have been any shock but there definitely were things that raised my eyebrows more than others. I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures and find it fascinating to see the differences in behaviors and customs. Here are few things that took me a while to get my head around.
Your most used words will become “sorry” or “thank you”
Even though I really enjoy the politeness the British culture has, I didn’t imagine that I’d end up spending fair amount of time each day apologizing myself. When coming from a country where silence is golden and when your mother language doesn’t have a word for “please” it really was a struggle to get to use to saying those small words every time there would be even a chance to be on someone’s way. A short walk in the office can include several apologizes and thank yous. Someone passes you; “Oh sorry”. Someone holds the door open; “Thank you”. There are few more doors opened for you and that’s another few thanks. You’re opening a door yourself and someone is standing behind and was about to open it themselves; “Oh sorry” (I didn’t mean to be on the other side of the door). The person lets you go first; “Thanks” for that. And at this point you’re only at the ladies room. The same thing happens all over again on your way back to your desk. And if you stop by to get some coffee, you can expect at least five more sorry’s and thank you’s before you’ve reached your destination. Then you have to apologize for not bringing tea for your colleagues…
Now-a-days this habit is deep in my bones and, oh my, you should see the look of those confused faces when I’m visiting Finland and apologize myself when I accidentally almost touch someone. You’re not really supposed to talk to others and if you have actually something apologize, you rather say “Oops” (or Oho, in Finnish language) than “Sorry”.
As mentioned in the previous section, there’s no word for “please” in Finnish language. Well not at least the way you use it in English. In Finnish culture it’s perfectly tolerable to order a cup of coffee just by saying “Coffee”. It took me a while to change the habit from saying e.g. “Can I get a a cappuccino” to “May I have a cappuccino, please”.
When I look back to my early times in London I must have sounded very rude in some occasions. Obviously when living in a multi-million city, not everyone you face are always polite but there’s a definitely a big difference between the two cultures I’ve most common with. In general I think Finns are much more polite than many other European nations, it’s just Britons are extreme in this matter.
High consume of crisps
First of all, it took me some time to realise that chips are the same as french fries and crisps are actually those that I’ve always thought were chips. Damn the differences between British and American English!
The amount of crisps I started to notice my coworkers eating especially on lunch breaks was astonishing. And it doesn’t help that crisps are part of a “meal deal” which is same as a lunch for many; a sandwich, a soft drink and a pack of crisps. I’ve always thought that crisps are a weekend treat, not something that is part of your everyday diet. I admit, I’ve probably eaten a lot more crisps over here than I on average consumed them in Finland but still, I would never have them for lunch.
A gas/electric bill proofs your existence
Once you’re moving to UK you’ll notice that a “proof of address” is the key to everything. And what that basically means is that you have to have some official bill or letter sent to the address you’re saying you’re living and that will proof your residency in the country. Without one, you will struggle to open a bank account, funnily enough, makes it more complicated to rent a room/flat/house, and shortly you’re not able to get anything done.
Luckily in my case I was able to use my employment and rental agreements (and a letter from my letting agency) to open a bank account and after that other day to day necessaries were a piece of cake after that. However, I sure still miss the electronic system they have for this (and pretty much everything) in Finland and find it funny that I need to proof my residency with a gas bill.
English weather doesn’t live up to its reputation
This one is only positive thing and it was more of a glad surprise. London is always described as a rainy city but that’s not actually true. Lot of other European cities are statistically more rainy, including Helsinki. When I get asked reasons why I left Finland, I quite often joke that I’m probably one of the only ones here because of the better weather. Shorter winter and longer spring, summer and autumn are definitely something I prefer as well as the higher temperatures and surprisingly less rain and nearly non-existing snowfalls.
And so much more…
This is a subject you could easily find enough to write a book! I haven’t even touched the drinking culture which has huge differences from English pub to Finnish “kalsarikännit” (= drinking at home in your underwear without intentions to go out) culture. The differences between the work cultures would required another few chapters as well. Or let alone the etiquette related to a gym behaviour. I’m sure we’ll be writing a lot more about this subject!