Monday 13 September 2010

Reverse culture shock - Ten observations of a Canadian Brit visiting the UK

I spent last week in the UK (for the HCI 2010 conference) and having spent a year and a half in Canada, for the first time I felt something of a stranger in my own homeland. Here are my top ten observations from the week of the cultural differences I observed:

1. When in a car driving on the left, it felt really wrong - like we should be on the other side of the road - especially when turning!

2. I found myself asking the driver to open the boot (trunk) - because in Canada you can't open the boot from outside, you need to pull the lever down by the driver's seat.

3. When buying products, I expected things to cost more than their displayed prices when I got to the till - because I've got used to tax not being included. 

4. The prices seemed really small due to them being in pounds not dollars. What was really weird was I found myself converting pounds to dollars to understand how much they cost - but yet I still convert dollar prices to pounds in Canada to understand them!

5. I felt guilty when leaving no tip at a bar or when paying for a meal - I've obviously got used to Canadian compulsory tipping. Found it even stranger there's not even a line to add a gratuity on the receipt when paying by Mastercard.

6. I felt like a second-class citizen when trying to pay with my Canadian Mastercard. It has no Chip & PIN, and the idea of a credit card without Chip & PIN is pretty unheard of in UK.. Most places won't accept it, and I actually was told to use an alternative means some times! Funnily enough they are just rolling out Chip & PIN in Canada, so things should improve soon. I wondered if I would have got more acceptance of my foreign card if I had put on a non-British accent!

7. I was able to hear the British accent as a distinct accent, my ears have obviously tuned in to Canadian as a baseline.

8. It seemed really strange to be wandering around town after work, 5.15pm - and all the shops were shut. I've got used to late night shopping being an option most nights.

9. Answering the question "Where are you from?" proved most confusing. Well I'm from the UK, but I'm also from Canada. Depends on the timeframe for the question!

10. I suddenly found myself using SMS again. Hadn't realised how little it is used in Canada vs the UK (email being the preferred instant contact in the US & Canada, given the Blackberry revolution)

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