The difference between living in Canada and living in the United Kingdom or Great Britain or England is vast and large. My husband and I relocated from Vancouver, British Columbia to London, England in March and I have yet to acclimatize. I thought it would be instantaneous. Heck, Canada was founded and colonised by the Brits in 1867. So how different can it be?
It can be different.
Okay, so it’s not Yemen or Turkmenistan. There is running water and electricity and we get mail hand-delivered to our door, even on Saturdays! But it is still an adjustment, one that I am working out each day.
We do speak the same language, sort of. There are three distinct dialects in England: Southern, Midlands, and Northern and within them each has various intricacies and pronunciations and grammar. All of which is difficult and sometimes impossible to decipher, especially when ordering a coffee. Then they have the gall to tell me I am the one with the accent.
The Brits have very specific vocabulary, which takes words we North Americans know and love and turns them into something completely different. For instance, they call the trunk of a car a “boot”. But we all know what a boot is, and it’s not the trunk of a car. They call an elevator a “lift”, but we know what a lift is: a verb.
When we moved to England or the United Kingdom or Great Britain or whatever you want to call it, we had quite the learning curve. We had been living in our cottage (500-years-old, no heat or hot water, very quaint) for three weeks before we got an angry notice from the council. We were unaware of this thing called “council tax”: a tax for local services that must be paid monthly, based on how your house looks from the outside. We stopped trimming our hedges after that.
We also got a notice from TV Licensing that read, “watching TV without a TV license is against the law and could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000” (approx. $1650 CAD). Apparently the Television Licensing Authority (or TVLA) has enforcement officers with detection capabilities, to see if you have been watching TV without a valid license. FYI: The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in all of Europe, no license needed.
We shelled out £144 pounds ($235 CAD) for the TV licence and were very sorry to find out that there was nothing on. The Brits love their documentaries (see BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4), and not much else. Many a cold night has been spent fooling around on the couch (Brits: settee) instead of watching Survivor or The Bachelor, which at times I would prefer (the Brits love their hummus, and so does my husband). If there was something decent on the “telly”- and you didn’t have to pay £144 to watch it- maybe there would be a decrease in teen pregnancy, and an increase in marital satisfaction.
We live in a “Royal” Borough, which basically means it has the legal right to be called Royal, because the Queen bestowed royal status on it. It doesn’t mean much else. The garbage (Brits: rubbish) still only gets picked up once a week. It’s just one of those things, an undeserved title on something or someone because the Queen said so (note: if the Queen would like to nominate me for a Lady, Duchess, Countess, Baroness, Marchioness, or Viscountess… I will not deny her). The Queen basically runs the show. She has the last word on everything- just like me in an argument- except on a larger scale.
The one good thing about England or Great Britain or the United Kingdom (I really should learn what that’s all about) is that it is a very social culture. People go out: to the theatre, to the pub, to art galleries. Cashiers at the grocery store (Brits: Tesco) say hello and make small talk about the ever-changing weather. Neighbours welcome you to the neighbourhood with a smile, and two bottles of wine.
And little old ladies at the bus stop smile at you and ask you where you’re from and want to know all about you. And when you have been someplace for about eight months and you feel a little bit homesick and a little bit lonely, sometimes that’s enough.