How to Adapt to UK Culture

Being an international student and studying abroad is a fulfilling and exciting thing. You will broaden your world view, grow your social connections across the world and enhance your employability. However, it’s perfectly normal to feel unsure about stepping into a new culture and wondering if you’re going to fit in.

Studying in the UK, and London in particular, is such an advantage given the unique blend of hundreds of different cultures and countries represented in the city. The culture in the UK is enriched by its international mix, but for full emersion into British culture we’ve put together a brief guide on where to eat, what to see, and how best to communicate with people in London and beyond.

The food and drink

The UK hasn’t historically been known for its cuisine. There are a few dishes that England is famous for: fish and chips, pie and mash, bubble and squeak – you may want to Google that last one – but these aren’t exactly what you might call delicacies.

Luckily, much like its population, the UK’s gastronomic landscape has diversified over the last few decades. Food from every corner of the globe can be found in the various markets in the capital. However, there are a few places that serve some of the best traditional British food around – and, luckily, they are within walking distance from the Northumbria University London Campus.

  • Fish and chips from Poppie’s
    6-8 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR
    You can’t get more British than cod and chips. The fish is usually battered, sometimes in beer, and served with fried potatoes in the form of chips. This dish is a staple in the UK’s seaside towns and is usually served wrapped in newspaper. Poppie’s in Shoreditch (just a six-minute walk from campus) was established in 1952 and is one of the best places to get the full fish and chip experience.
  • A full English breakfast at The Breakfast Club
    12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS
    A traditional English breakfast is usually made up of bacon, sausages, black pudding, fried potatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, baked beans, tomatoes, eggs and toast. In case you’re wondering, black pudding is a type of sausage made with pig’s blood and hash browns are small fried cakes made from potatoes. Try The Breakfast Club, whose version of this is called ‘The Full Monty’ – they also have a vegetarian version for non-meat-eaters.
  • Sausage and mash at Albion
    2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD
    You may be noticing a theme at this point – the English like their meat and potatoes. Sausage and mash (sometimes called bangers and mash) is another classic British meal, often served in pubs. For it to be truly authentic, it needs to be swimming in gravy and served with ‘mushy peas’ (ordinary peas that have been mashed up). If you want to taste a more upmarket version of sausage and mash, pay Albion in Shoreditch a visit – they also serve pies, another UK favourite.

The geography

It may be a little difficult for students to stray too far outside London but there are several wonderful places just a short train journey away. So, if you fancy a day trip, why not try some of the suggestions below?

  • Brighton
    This seaside town is known for its pier and pebble beach as well as its inclusive nightlife and world-famous fish and chips. Trains depart from London Victoria and take just under an hour
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon
    The birthplace of William Shakespeare, this beautiful town is quintessentially English. See the sights, stroll along the river, or go and see a play at The Swan Theatre – trains from Marylebone station take two hours
  • Oxford
    Home to one of the world’s most famous universities, this beautiful city has so much to offer visitors. Take a punt on The Isis, tour the colleges, and enjoy a gin and tonic at The Oxford Artisan Distillery. Departing from Paddington, the train takes an hour

The language

As you might expect, accents often vary throughout the UK. A person hailing from Liverpool will sound completely different to someone from Bath, for instance. Confusingly, accents can even change depending on where you are from in London, which is why practicing is so important.

The best way to keep your language skills sharp is through conversation. Groups like London Mammoth Language Exchange have regular events where members can socialise with native speakers, practice their English and, in the process, hopefully make new friends.

If you prefer to learn solo, apps like Duolingo mean you can brush up on your vocabulary on the go, between classes, or in the evening before you go to bed. Watching British TV, listening to podcasts from the UK and turning on the radio can also help with understanding the many regional accents found in the country.

Here are a few very English phrases and their translations to start you off:

  • “It’s raining cats and dogs” – It’s raining very heavily
  • “Stop beating around the bush” – Get to the point
  • “You’re pulling my leg!” – You’re joking!
  • “It’s the best of both worlds” – It’s the perfect situation
  • “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it” – Let’s deal with that problem later

The entertainment

There are too many must-visit museums, theatres, and galleries in London to list, so we will stick to those nearest the Northumbria University London campus.

The V&A Museum of Childhood can be found on Bethnal Green Road and gives an interesting insight into growing up in the UK. Visit the Whitechapel Gallery for fascinating contemporary art – admission is free! If you want to buy something to hang on your wall, Jealous Gallery and Print Studio on Curtain Road is the place to go.

If experiencing brilliant theatre or live music is your priority, you can’t go wrong with the Barbican. The brutalist building is located two tube stops from Liverpool Street Station and is home to a theatre and cinema – there is always something on.

The people

Stereotypes exist in every culture. Some of the most common about Brits are that they’re reserved, they like their beer and all tend to drink a lot of tea. Elements of this may be true (tea is very important in the UK) but there is definitely more to the story.

Although the English may not be overly demonstrative, often not hugging and kissing hello, they are a social and welcoming bunch. Surveys on personality traits in London have shown that it is a city of extroverts, all drawn to the buzz and culture found in the capital. So, don’t be afraid to say hello – most people are more than happy to chat.

The UK is also famous for its sense of humour. This ranges from the silly and absurd, to the bitingly satirical and dry. Most importantly, Brits like to find the humour in dark situations, so you may notice your new English friends using a fair amount of sarcasm in conversation. Don’t worry though, it’s all in good fun and if you don’t understand something, just ask.

The UK is an exciting place to come and study. It’s a welcoming multi-cultural society rich in history and culture. We’re confident you’ll find your place here and hope this guide helps you understand the culture and has eased any nerves you may have about living here.

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