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The Language is Different (No, Really)
The RAF Commander asks if anyone speaks English. Of course, everyone raises their hands and he says “No, you don’t, you speak American” and he’s absolutely right. They have different words than we have. Example: we say bathroom, they say toilet or loo. Also, the same word may not be spelled the same, like color versus colour. You will get used to it but it might help you knowing that upfront. I didn’t think there would be a culture shock at all but the English are different than us even though we have a similar language.
Everything is Smaller
The roads are smaller, the stores are smaller, the houses are smaller. It’s not good or bad, just something to keep in mind when deciding on what you want to bring. Also, note that the refrigerator is about the size of a US mini fridge so you’ll have to go shopping every couple of days. The good thing I found in living in a UK home was deciding what I truly wanted to keep. Getting a smaller home is the ultimate decluttering tool.
Take Vitamin D and get a Happy Lamp
There is not much sunlight in England which can affect your vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels can affect your energy levels, immunity, and lead to depression. Taking vitamin D and sitting in front of a happy lamp for 15-20 minutes can help combat this. I take 2000 IU of vitamin D but will double the dose if I feel more blah than usual. If you’re here in England and just not feeling well, make an appointment with the doctor to see if vitamin D deficiency might be an issue for you. They can get you on the correct dosage if it is an issue or find out what the issue is. Also, go outside the minute you see the sun.
Customer Service is Different
In the states, the waitress/waiter promptly gets you a table or puts you on a waiting list and checks in on you during your meal. In the UK, many times there’s a number on the table, so you pick a seat. Then you go up to order and pay when you’re ready. When your food is ready they bring it and that is the last interaction you’ll have with anyone from the restaurant unless you flag them down. Some restaurants will seat you but they still don’t interact much. The British don’t go out often so when they do it’s to socialize with their family and friends, not the waitress/waiter. The funny thing is when we when to the Chili’s in Ramstein, we actually found ourselves annoyed with the waitress. This goes to show you that people adapt.
Also, there are no refills. I’m still not cool with that one though. Another thing to consider is that 9 times out of 10 you have to make a reservation or appointment wherever you go. So if you want to open a bank account, you need an appointment. You want to go to Cadbury World, you need an appointment (they call it a booking as well). It’s not bad, just different.
Get Out of The House (But Don’t Go On Base)
You have the amazing opportunity to explore a whole new country. There will be things you dislike and things you will like but you won’t know until you get into the village. Also, consider driving to different places like Cambridge or London. You don’t have to drive into them. Just the park and ride in Cambridge and the Tube for London. Remember to talk to British people, most of them think Americans are cool. You might get a couple jerks but most people are actually pretty nice.
You Can Do Something Everyday (If You Want To)
On top of exploring England, there are many things to do that are sponsored through base groups and other spouses. For example, I have free lunch and spiritual growth on Wednesdays with my Bible study group, made a mug at an event for Martinsburg College and went on a London Tea Bus tour with the Spouses’ Association. Get out, meet people, do stuff!
Traveling Europe is as cheap as it will ever be while you’re stationed here so make the most of it. You can drive within the UK which includes Scotland, Wales, and some of Ireland. You can also drive through mainland Europe using the ferry or chunnel (it’s a train for your car!). Flights are also super cheap here especially if you pack light and don’t mind people trying to sell you lottery tickets and cologne. Check Ryanair or EasyJet for low-cost flights.
If You Get Lost, Look for the Giant Fill in the Blank
Most European cities have giant landmarks like cathedrals, abbeys, or castles. While you are out and about in your town or traveling, take note of what the landmark is and where you are in comparison with it. This saved me and my friend when we went on an ITT trip and Google maps wasn’t really helping us get back to our bus. I saw the cathedral and knew we had to head back towards that way.
Don’t Count on COLA and Other Overseas Pay
These types of pay are only for while you’re overseas, so use it wisely. Saving it for a home down payment, paying down debt or traveling Europe can all be good ways to use this money. Just know it isn’t permanent. Also, know your Utility Allowance is meant for your oil (if you have it) as well. Which brings me to my next point……
Save Up for When You Need Oil
If you have oil, you’ll have to pay for it every 6 months to 12 months as a lump sum. Save your Utilities Allowance so you have the money set aside to pay. I personally had a UK bank account for this when we lived off base. Also, you can try to time buying oil in the summer when it is cheaper to save you some money.
Buy Cleaning Products Off Base
The area of the UK I’m in has hard water and it stains sinks, toilet bowls, and your dishes. If you use cleaning products from UK stores, they do a great job of neutralizing the hard water. I have found if I get cleaning products from the base, they don’t really touch the stains. The ones in the picture below are awesome!
The Food is Usually Fresher and Cheaper Off Base
The UK is stricter about its food standards and many times usually from local produced. Also, in the case of perishable foods like vegetables, bread, and milk the price is cheaper than if you get it at the Commissary even if you consider the conversion rate. An example is milk is usually 1 pound for 4 pints whereas the commissary has the same size for $2.68. The conversion rate right now is 0.77 which makes the off base milk cost $1.28. That’s a $1.50 difference. Note that there are some things we have to get at the Commissary like ranch and root beer because it doesn’t exist or just isn’t the same.
The great thing about the British mail system is that they are usually very efficient and quick. If you order something, it usually comes the next day with no extra charge. The issue comes when you live on base and try to have it delivered. Many carriers understand how our system to get mail works where we meet them off base, but it freaks some carriers out to meet up with strangers, which is understandable. To avoid this, we have just started having things delivered to our friend’s house that lives off base.
I hope this article is helpful in getting you and your family settled into the quaint little country of England. Use this time to do things most Americans only dream of doing. Just remember things will be different but that doesn’t make them bad and you can always find something you like. You will find joy in every assignment if you choose to. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.