London Part III – Chips? Crisps?

This is something that has always worried me a bit before I came, but as it turned out, it’s really not that bad. Most of them just takes a little bit of getting used to, and some of them I have learned after some confused looks… though I haven’t been thrown out of any establishment yet, so I guess I’m not doing TOO poorly?

Of course, I am talking about cultural differences. Many of them are just single word replacements, but some are a little more elaborate.

Here is a list of things I have learned, in no particular order (by US I mean US and Canada, since the difference between them is much much smaller than UK to either) –

  • chips (UK) = fries (US)
  • crisps (UK) = chips (US)
  • rubbish (bin) (UK) = garbage (can) (US). Apparently they also say “refuse”, which I haven’t heard anywhere else.
  • garage (UK) = garage (US). But different pronunciation! In the UK it’s pronounced gay-ridge, and in the US gah-roj.
  • chemist (UK) = pharmacy (US). Though they also use ‘pharmacy’. I’m not sure what the differences are, yet, or if they are equivalent.
  • underground (UK) = subway (US)
  • maths (UK) = math (US)
  • aeroplane (UK) = airplane (US)
  • bill (UK) = bill (Canada) = check (US)
  • surgery (UK) = clinic (US)
  • queue (UK) = line (US)
  • toilet (UK) = washroom/bathroom/restroom/WC (US). What do they call the actual thing you sit on to poo? I have no idea.
  • lift (UK) = elevator (US)
  • university (UK) = (sometimes) school (US). They never call universities schools. Schools = primary and secondary school, and something called Sixth Form, which apparently is some kind of pre-university college people can choose to go to instead of last year of secondary school? I have no idea. It’s complicated. It seems like most people who end up in universities have done that.


Waiters in the UK are paid at least minimum wage, so tipping is not required at low/mid end restaurants, unless the service is exceptional, in which case, 10% seems to be appropriate (usually that’s about ¬£1).

In Canada, I would only not tip if the service is absolutely terrible (and I am fairly well-tempered, so that happens extremely rarely!). In the UK, people only tip if service is absolutely phenomenal (or if they are trying to flirt with the waiter?!)

Some restaurants include 10% or 12% service charge. Not 20% like in the US/Canada.


Not really a cultural thing, but almost all posted prices here include VAT (20% sales tax), so what you see is what you pay. No difficult mental math(s) like in the US.

Talking to Strangers

People don’t talk to strangers nearly as much, and especially not on the tube (underground/subway). Apparently that’s to avoid really weird people. I have no idea. Haven’t met a weird person on the tube, yet!

Talking on the phone on public transit is also considered rude. Well, it’s considered rude in Canada, too, but many people don’t care.

Stand on the Right… or Not!

Stand on the right and walk on the left on escalators. Yes, this is the same as in Canada, but I expected it to be different, since people drive on the left here! It just doesn’t make much sense.

I heard it’s London-specific, and other parts of the UK aren’t as much into this.

Walking in places like parks, etc, you see people trying to stay on their right side, and people trying to stay on their left. I walk down the middle :). That could just be because London is incredibly multi-cultural. Maybe it’s more consistent in other parts?


People get offended if they are Scottish or Northern Irish and you call them English.

If you are not familiar with the UK, it’s an umbrella country made up of 4 constituent nations¬†– England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

3 of the 4 parts are part of Great Britain – England, Wales, and Scotland. Northern Ireland is part of the Irish island (what is it called again?). Why is NI not part of Ireland? I have no idea. There is probably a long story.

In London, calling someone British is USUALLY safe, if they don’t have an Irish accent, since there are many Irish people here, too. I imagine the situation is a lot more complicated in Northern Ireland… I’ll just not go there :). Though London has tons of people from western Europe, too, so maybe it’s not safe to call anyone anything. That said, you can usually tell by their accent if you have been here for a little while (apparently 3 weeks is long enough?).

German and Spanish accents are pretty easy to recognize. I am still working on the others.

Then you have people like yours truly.

A few people have tried to guess where I came from, and Canada is usually somewhere around 20th-30th guess. A girl actually guessed Ireland before Canada.

London is a very interesting place. Only about 15% of people I’ve met are British. Most of the rest are from western Europe, and there were also a few eastern Europeans and Asians (quite a few, but not anywhere near as many as in Vancouver).

That’s it for now! I’ll try to add to this post if I discover more peculiarities :).

All these are from my 3 weeks experience living in London. It’s likely that other parts of the UK (especially outside England) would have different peculiarities!