Being English

This week marks eight years since I boarded an airplane and departed my homeland with a one way ticket.

I’d packed a suitcase, but had no real plan. I recall sitting in Windhoek airport, having booked a cheap flight on Air Namibia, being amazed at how small their international terminal was. I watched my last (at least for a while) African sunset and wondered if I was making the right decision.

I find myself amazed eight years on how normal this all feels. I remember being that excited and scared traveller boarding a Gatwick Express train, feeling grateful that I shared the language (mostly) with my country of choice.

Reunited with my sister (whom I hadn’t seen for over a year) she graciously put together a welcome pack which included a London A-Z, an Oyster card and a hand-bag sized umbrella. She told me it was wise to never leave the house without one. I learnt my lesson that very day as we strolled along the Thames and the heavens suddenly opened.  I had cleverly left my brand new brolly on my sister’s coffee table, what a bright spark. I always check for it now whenever leaving the house.

My first few months in London taught me a few other interesting lessons; these might be useful to anyone planning on making the trip to Blighty.

1 – The lack of English people in London 

Note – this is not how to spot a local…

This is something I didn’t even realise was a thing until I got here.  Having grown up in Cape Town I am used to a multicultural society. It’s how I’m most comfortable. It struck me when friends starting asking ‘what English people were like’ that I’d hardly met any! This has since changed, but it is rare to find a born and raised Londoner in London! Yay for the diversity though.

2 – Pants are not trousers


This is something I suggest one picks up quite quickly. Pants are underpants, and underpants alone. One must use the words trousers or jeans to avoid some odd stares. Although stories like ‘I stepped in a puddle and wet my pants’ do suddenly become more interesting…

3 – Robots aren’t a thing

Traffic light

 This word is literal here. The strange looks you get giving someone directions and casually say ‘left at the robots’ instead of ‘traffic lights’ is almost worth using the word though.

4 – Tube etiquette

Eyes down, papers up!

You may be crammed into a tiny tin can hurtling through a century old tunnel but don’t look at each other! Heaven forbid you acknowledge or even talk to your fellow commuter no matter how intimate the crush during rush hour. An armpit in the face is not an invitation.

Having to wait more than five minutes for a train is also a ‘sigh worthy’ inconvenience too. Worrying about a couple of minutes is definitely a first world problem, but I find myself doing it.

5 – Shop by weight

Another very useful piece of advice my sister gave me about grocery shopping.  At home I was used to having a car, so you could fill up your trolley, wheel it directly to your boot and not have to worry about actually carrying anything. Not true when you’re using public transport and walking to get home. A clever shopper coordinates purchases of washing powder and potatoes since they cannot both be carried home simultaneously. I have also found this to be true for things in glass jars and tins. I now only ever use a basket – and once that is full, it is the signal to stop.

6 – Substitute ‘Mate’ for ‘Bru’

While your friends back home are ‘bru’ or even ‘bra’, in England you are ‘mate’ – regardless of gender too.

As you can see I haven’t completely wasted the last 8 years.

Anybody else have any tips/stories/lessons they wish to share?



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