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A Brief Discussion of Life in the UK


Nothing has the potential to alter your life-perspective quite like complete immersion in a foreign culture and being in the UK will be no exception. Once there you'll find yourself in the midst of an exciting, multi-ethnic, world-class culture with countless stimulating diversions. There will be so much to discover in the way of people, places, food, traditions, music, celebrations –the amount of fun and excitement to be had is potentially limitless. Still, it's important to prepare as much as possible for inevitable cultural differences, which can range from something like how people eat or dress to the ways in which people view life and express opinions. As much as these differences can be intriguing and stimulating they can also be frustrating and occasionally lead to conflict. Thus, it's best to be prepared to try and minimize any potential for conflict or culture shock. Reading up on cultural differences is one good way to prepare, to know what to expect in the foreign culture as well as to know how you might want to present your own culture and individual cultural needs.

Politics

Technically speaking, the UK is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. It is also a capitalist democracy in which people elect their leaders (those of the House of Commons) from three major political parties: the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats. A number of the western world's democratic ideals can be traced back to the UK (specifically to the philosopher John Locke). Though the wrangling between the various political parties can be heated, the vast majority of British citizens believe in the ideal that everyone is, essentially, free and equal and that there are certain inalienable rights possessed by all individuals. Specifically, the British believe in equal and fair treatment for women, minorities, and (increasingly) homosexuals. Most British believe in workers' rights as well as freedom of religion and freedom of all citizens to vote in political elections as well as freedom of the press. These ideas are all reflected in British law. As a democratic culture, the British can at times be outspoken with their opinions and encourage open discussion, even debate, sometimes even between family and friends. Don't be surprised if you too are asked to give your opinion –it's just the culture.

Religion

The UK is a primarily Christian nation (71.6% of the population identify themselves as such), but, in accordance with its multi-ethnic character and belief in freedom of religion, many other religions are practiced in the UK, and, by and large, they all peacefully coexist. Most British cities have Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim places of worship, in addition to the more common synagogues and churches of various denominations. Religious holidays and festivals of all of the above religions are celebrated in the UK.

Socializing and Recreation

It's crucial that you not only tend to your studies but also get out to experience the surrounding culture and environment. This means first enjoying the vast array of entertainment available in the UK, including clubs, restaurants, movie theatres, galleries, parks, sports facilities, museums and more. The Brits like to pride themselves on having an impressive selection of entertainment that includes both historical riches and modern wonders. Indeed, they have some of the world's best museums (e.g. the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, the Imperial War Museum of Manchester, and the British Museum of London). They possess one of the world's very best music scenes featuring jazz, classical, rock, pop, opera and folk music and world class sports arenas such as O2 Arena. And, of course, there is the ever-famous wealth of historic attractions including Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, Edinburgh Cambridge, Oxford, the Roman baths (in the city of Bath), St. Andrews Links, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square, among many others. British cities tend to be green with many parks and open spaces and the British countryside is beautiful and offers a variety of landscapes for numerous activities including walking, biking, climbing and hiking. Head out to the mountains of Scotland, the many green, sloping hills of England, the Yorkshire moors or the Lake District. And, of course, being one large island, there is an abundance of coastal spots too. Surely, there's something for everybody and every type of interest in the UK.

And just as important as getting out to sight-see and take in entertainment is the need to make friends while visiting the UK. This type of social intercourse is, arguably, the single-greatest way in which we come to know a foreign culture, not to mention it's a great way to practice a foreign language. There's an old stereotype that says that Brits are dry and reserved. However, stereotypes are just that, and if you get out and meet and interact with British people you'll likely find that many Brits are just the opposite. You'll see that while polite, they are open and friendly, and in accordance with their worldly, multi-ethnic culture more than happy to get to know a foreigner living in their country. They are as interested in you and your background as you are in learning about them. So, don't hesitate to get out and meet people during your visit.

Food and Drink

Like Britain's multi-ethnic character, British food is a true mix of influences. Though some old British standards such as fish-n-chips and bangers and mash (sausage, mashed potatoes and gravy) still abound, you can also find Caribbean, African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American cuisines in many supermarkets and restaurants. Indians make up the largest minority group in the UK and subsequently their cuisine is widely available too. In fact, London has earned itself the nickname “Little India” in recent years by virtue of its plethora of Indian restaurants.

As in many countries, healthy eating is on the rise in the UK and subsequently a wide range of both low fat and organic foods are available in both shops and restaurants.

In terms of daily meals, the British generally eat three: breakfast, lunch and dinner (also called “supper”). Tea drinking is still quite common in the UK and usually drunk several times a day, and usually served with milk.

The British have a long history as quality beer crafters, and, thus, alcohol consumption and pub life are an integral part of British culture. Eighteen is the legal age at which an individual can drink in the UK and many Brits do partake in moderate alcohol consumption. But don't worry. If you don't drink for personal or religious reasons you don't have to partake. You are welcome to abstain or drink one of the non-alcoholic beverages served at many pubs as an alternative. If you do have any food or alcohol restrictions it is probably best to inform friends before heading out to the pub or to someone's home for a meal. Though Brits tend to be flexible and understanding about such things, it's always best to inform people beforehand.

For starters, the city has five major airports along with high speed rail, Eurostar. Once settled in you’ll come to know the London underground or “tube” as it’s referred to colloquially. The city has a highly efficient network of rail, trams, and double decker buses, making life very convenient. And one can use his/her Oyster Card on any of these systems at a reduced (or free) rate. The Transport for London website has additional helpful information.