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7 things only immigrants living in the UK know to be true

Who wouldn’t want to live in the UK? Its history, healthcare and diverse culture are just some of the reasons why people from all over the world relocate to Britain.

But if you’ve lived in the UK for any length of time you might have noticed other things, too. Things that have you scratching your head and wondering—why? Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Here are some of the common things immigrants notice about living in the UK. 

British politeness

Meet a British person in the work arena and they’re likely to say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ You could be forgiven for thinking they’re asking about your well-being, although nothing could be further from the truth. 

The last thing you should do is answer the question properly, especially if you’re feeling overworked and desperate for a holiday. The correct response is, ‘Good, thanks.’ That way your colleague can quickly get onto whatever task they want you to do for them. 

Separate taps 

‘Would you like your hands frozen or burnt, madam?’ Such are the two options in the bathrooms of many a UK residence. Most countries manage to have one tap that you can get a mix of hot and cold water from, but in the UK you often get one of each. 

It was common practice after World War II, when houses were built with a water storage in the attic. You’d get your hot water from here, while cold water would come straight from the mains. All very well, but this is the 21st Century—it’s funny that British taps still come in pairs.

The obsession with tea

There is no occasion or time of day when tea is not appropriate for the Brits. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night—and every hour in between—they love a good cuppa. But it has to be done just right. 

God forbid you take the teabag out too soon, or add the wrong number of sugars. Fights have broken out over whether or not to pour the milk in first. And don’t be surprised to see Brits packing tea bags on holiday abroad. It’s just not the same anywhere else, apparently. 

Awkward greetings

People from other countries seem to know what to do when they meet one another, whether it’s a polite nod or kiss on either cheek. The Brits have no idea. Shake hands or hug? One kiss or two? No-one knows. This explains why Brits inexplicably kiss the air as their friend sits down, or rub their cheekbones after colliding with someone similarly clueless. 

Lifts are another problem. While in most cultures you’ll receive a polite greeting on entering a lift, British people will most likely glare at you as if you’ve just walked in on them on the toilet. 

Unpredictable weather

It’s not so much that the weather in the UK is bad, more that you just have no idea what it’s going to do. Even the experts are baffled. Weather apps confidently predict 0% chance of rain. Yet you’ll find yourself an hour later completely drenched on your afternoon walk, your waterproofs hanging neatly on the peg back home. 

Such unpredictability is a constant source of interest for the Brits, who could spend hours on the family WhatsApp comparing the amount of rainfall in their area. And when the sun comes out, you’ll notice sudden hordes of Brits shedding layers of clothing and jumping in lakes. They might not see the sun again for another two weeks. 

Weird spellings 

If you’re living in the UK and need to ask for directions somewhere, good luck. Try saying Durham, Derby, Holborn or Worcester the way they’re written and you’ll be met with a blank stare. (Top tip: if a place name ends in ‘-cester’ just pronounce the ‘-ster’ at the end; the rest has been thrown in to confuse you). 

But such rules are unhelpfully absent elsewhere. Words like ‘chance’ and ‘children’ are easy enough, but you’ll fall at the ‘ch’ hurdle when asking about the local ‘choir’. Then there’s the trio of ‘rough’, through’ and ‘thorough’. Each has exactly the same last 5 letters so they should be pronounced the same, right? Wrong. They’re about as different as you could possibly imagine. 

Confusing idioms

Fat chance you’ll understand them. Or to put it another way, there’s a slim chance you’ll understand them. That’s right—despite ‘fat’ and ‘slim’ being opposites, in this context they mean the same thing. Confusing, eh? But English is full of such idioms that can leave non-native speakers baffled. 

You might have heard people in the UK feeling ‘under the weather’, meaning ill (trust the Brits to have an idiom about the weather). When something goes ‘pear-shaped’ it’s usually gone horribly wrong, but what British people have got against the shape of pears is anyone’s guess. And if you overhear someone say they could ‘murder a Chinese’, hold off calling the police. They simply fancy some Peking duck and spring rolls. 

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2021-02-22

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