Cultural adjustment

by John Lavaccare

I’ve never been anywhere. Growing up, I defined myself by that fact. It wasn’t until after high school that I left the Midwest. My first, and until now, only, flights ever–from Chicago to Los Angeles and back–were the summer after high school graduation.

So the undertaking of going on a study abroad trip–while something I really wanted to do–was one I had to build my way up to. When I first started college, steeped as I was in the culture of suburban Chicago, even Michigan seemed like an exotic location. I marveled at the tiniest details that were different between my home midwestern state and my new state: the fact that my classmates called the basketball game knockout “lightning”, the way that Meijer was both the most popular grocery store and most popular department store around, even the ever-present “Michigan left” turns that made it so hard to get from northbound Harrison Street to westbound Michigan Avenue.


Since even the move from Chicago to Michigan left me with so many changes to process, you can imagine my culture shock upon arriving in an entirely new country. Though the UK shares many similarities with the US, I noticed on my British Airways flight to this country that there were already a few differences. for example, on the plane, a flight attendant asked me if I had any “rubbish” to throw away; the in-flight meal was full of foods I wasn’t used to: shortbread and crackers with spread-on cheese among them. I landed in London, and immediately headed to the “queue”–not the line–for customs, and was told to “mind the gap” at the train station. It was all surreal. It felt like something out of a TV show.

I noticed a few minuscule changes in my first couple days in London. A few phrases had changed. Buildings were “to let” instead of “for rent”; “splendid” had become a colloquial term, equivalent to “great”, rather than an anachronism; the sparsely-spaced public trash bins were marked as “litter”, oddly enough, even though litter in America means the exact opposite of trash that is disposed of properly. The major grocery store was called Tesco.


There were some other differences: many of the buildings were connected to each other, for one thing, and multiple businesses sometimes resided within the same building. The example of this I found most surprising was a building full of hotels: some seven or eight hotels were housed within the exact same building, including a DaysInn, a brand I recognized from America. I was used to hotels having their own, freestanding spaces.

On my second day in England, I had my first “full English” breakfast. One thing that carried over across cultures was breakfast food. No doubt, the American breakfast classic of eggs, meat, and toast are adapted from the foods commonly eaten in England. However, I was surprised to find mushrooms on my plate, and even more surprised to find what appeared to be pinto beans. Water, instead of being served from the tap, was handed to us in bottled form.

I’m excited to see what other little details I will find changed on this adventure through two new countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland.