Culture comparison

Remembrance Day, Britian

The U.K. celebrates Remembrance Day (or ‘Poppy Day’) with parades on Nov. 10th (instead of calling it Veteran’s Day)

Recently my study abroad reflection professor has been focusing on the ‘iceberg effect’ a new country has on long-term visitors. The idea, in a nutshell, is that not all cultural differences are obvious. For instance, in Britain you suddenly have a different style of the English language or cars driving on opposite sides of the road- those are the ‘tip of the iceberg’ differences, visible deviations above the ‘ocean’ that don’t really effect you on a deeper level (unless you stop paying attention while crossing the road). But below the water, the iceberg grows bigger, and you run into bigger stumbling blocks that make it harder to adjust to your host country.

For me, a below-the-surface block has had a lot more to do with school then I expected. The UK’s idea of a ‘free press’ is in evolution right now- after a series of phone-hacking scandals fronted by news editors, the Leveson Inquiry was established to explore the possibilities of press regulations. Obviously, I’m still learning journalism from my English professors, but I’m also learning how my industry thrives and struggles in countries without the U.S. Constitution’s famous first amendment. And beyond media business, there’s also the little things, like grammar differences, that affects how I write stories and how my professor grades them.

This week’s assignment from my Simpson professor has the class taking a look at our home culture in Iowa (for the majority of us) and making a list of things our friends from England might stumble over if they came to visit. I thought I’d share mostly above-the-water differences they might experience if they visited the very rural town I spent my childhood in (population 45).

1) Smiling at strangers- people are very private here, and smiling at someone you don’t know seems off-putting. People not only smiled at each other in my town, but if you drove past someone on a gravel road you’d do the obligatory head nod and two-to-three finger farmer’s wave.

2) Small talk- with the bank clerk, grocery cashier, or stranger in line behind you at the bakery. Again, people in the U.K. are private, and asking someone’s name or how their day is going seems intrusive, although some people who recognize your American accent will appreciate the friendliness.

3) Tipping servers- people visiting from England might not realize how rude not tipping someone at a restaurant or coffee shop can seem at home, because they don’t tip at all. Add to that the currency exchange/insecurity over how much to leave, and you’d probably have one very confused foreigner.

Culture permeates a lot deeper then I had realized. I’m really interested in seeing what U.K. habits I bring home to the U.S. (to coffee shop baristas: I promise I’ll keep tipping).


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