The Expat Experience: UK First Impressions

Last week, my husband and I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I’ll be studying for the next year. While I’ve visited Scotland twice before (and loved it), I knew that living abroad would present itself with very different experiences and its own set of challenges. Here are some of the things that will take some getting used to:

Shopping

  • Instead of a magnetic stripe, the standard credit card in the UK contains a chip. Since our card doesn’t have a chip, cashiers have to ask to see our signature on the back. Instead of a signature, however, “SEE ID” is written across the back. This has confused nearly everyone. We then have to show the signature that is on our driver’s licenses, but it is quite a process even to make a simple purchase.
  • Clothing sizes are different from the US. Further, some brands have European sizes, while others have UK sizes. I’m sure this will be a fairly painless adjustment once I memorize the conversions, but it’s a very intimidating problem at first! 

Food

  • It’s very time-consuming to go out to eat here. The service is very slow, and even a casual meal at a sit-down restaurant can take up to two hours. You also have to factor in the time that it takes to get there, whether it’s by walking or via public transportation. That usually tacks on an additional 30-60 minutes.
  • Foods from home are not as readily available here in the UK. This seems like such an obvious one, but I didn’t realize the extent to which this was true. I initially had a difficult time finding all of the ingredients for my favorite recipes while on a recent trip to the store (And while there are many “express” food stores, I did go to a superstore for these items). I had to find substitutes for black beans and chicken broth, as they were not in stock. The total grocery bill was also twice the amount I pay for the same meals in the US. I’ll have to start finding new recipes that are tailored to the UK, although I guess this is not the worst thing in the world 🙂
  • It’s very difficult to stock up on food in advance. Since the food is fresh and without as many preservatives, things expire quickly. I’m finding that shelf life is typically only a day or two. Perhaps this is why refrigerators are so small here!

Fuel

  • Going to the gas station is quite an affair. Filling up can take quite a while since there is usually a line of cars waiting for the pump. This is because there are no credit card machines outside, so you must go inside to pay. And there is usually a line in there, too!

Health

  • In the US, I wash my face with an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide cleanser. I couldn’t find any face washes with benzoyl peroxide here, and was told that I have to go to a chemist for it. The chemist explained to me that all benzoyl peroxide is out of stock until further notice and recommended an “antibacterial” face wash as a substitute. So far, it works, but if anyone has suggestions on where I can find benzoyl peroxide face wash here in the UK, please advise!

City Living

  • If there’s one thing I learned this week, it’s that I’m unapologetically suburban by nature. This isn’t something unique to the UK, but since this is something I’m not accustomed to, I’ll include it on this list. In particular, the crowds of people, public transportation, and the smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke are a big adjustment for me. I feel like I have to carry around hand sanitizer with me at all times to stay healthy!
  • On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy living in a small space. While I wish that we had a backyard, I don’t mind living in a small flat. We have 1/3 of the square footage that we had in the US, but I don’t miss it much yet. Our “cozy” flat is definitely manageable for two people.

Culture & Misc.

  • I haven’t learned how to get people to move out of the way when I am trying to get past them. I’ve tried “excuse me”, “pardon me”, and “sorry”, but nothing seems to work! When I am going down a path with only one point of access, I simply have to stand and wait for the person to move on their own accord. Am I missing something? AWKWARD.
  • Everything simply takes longer. For example, doing laundry takes a long time because the washer cycle is approximately 90 minutes. The clothes also have to air dry, since we don’t have a dryer. Also (as mentioned above), eating and shopping takes a long time, since you typically have to take public transportation to get there. I didn’t realize how many conveniences we have in the US, and I won’t lie- I miss them! But these things will definitely help me to live a more active and healthy lifestyle overall.

That’s it for now. I look forward to the upcoming month ahead, as we get ourselves adjusted to life here in Scotland. There will be more updates to come!

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