Strange, funny things in the UK — #1

When I came to live in the UK more than two years ago, there were many things I had to adapt to. Some things are relatively easy, such as using a knife and fork for eating everything (even spaghetti).

But some things are not so easy. Some things are strange. And some are amusing. This is the first part of my long list of those things.


1. Saying “trousers” instead of “pants”


I’m not unfamiliar with the word “trousers”. I learnt it in school when I was a kid, since Singapore uses British English. But, thanks to the influence of American media, most Singaporeans say “pants”.

I have always associated the word “trousers” with old men because only my dad used that word when I was growing up (he was schooled as a kid by British teachers when Singapore was still a British colony) and he was the only person in the family to actually wear trousers. So, after more than two years in England, I still have trouble saying “trousers” without thinking old men attire.

Also, I had to learn the hard way that “pants” means “underwear” in the UK.


I don't like wearing pants!


2. People going mad when the sun comes out


Yes, the Brits go apeshit crazy when the sun comes out, understandably so since they have, like, maybe 20 sunny days in a year. But I still get amused and amazed by it.

When the sun is out, everyone goes to the beach, whether it’s a work day or a weekend, morning, afternoon, or night. It’s scary how the beach gets swallowed whole by people in the blink of an eye.

It’s something I can’t relate to because we get too much sun in Singapore so my modus operandi is to avoid it as much as I can.


UK beach comic


3. Signing off with “x”


I was confused at first when I started receiving e-mails and texts that signed off this way:

“Bye! Sue x”

“See you tomorrow! Jane x”

I wondered why everyone’s last name was x.

And then I was told that x means kiss and it’s just a friendly way to sign off. And people use more x’s if they like you a lot or are feeling particularly excited.

I’ve tried to adopt this habit in order not to be rude and have people think that I don’t like them, but I keep forgetting to do it because it’s very strange for me to virtual kiss anyone who is not my partner or close girl friend!


To x or not to x


4. Shops closing at 5 pm


This I find most inconvenient. I am used to shopping up till 10 pm in Singapore. I guess it has to do with labour laws here seeking to protect all residents equally. But I wonder how anyone gets any shopping done when all the shops close the moment they get off work.

It’s worse on Sundays, when supermarkets close at 4 pm so that employees can go home and enjoy some family time. I mean, I feel happy for people in the retail industry, I honestly do. But it’s just difficult to get used to it.

Just last week, on a Sunday evening, I suggested to Piers that we should go to Tesco because I want to buy some frozen fruit to make smoothies.

For the nth time, he looked at me quizzically and said, “Tesco is closed, dear.”

It took me a few seconds to remember (yet again) that he’s right.




5. Cars stopping for me


Now, this is a good thing. The British are a very gracious and polite people and I love that.

When I stop at a road to cross, a car coming my way will (8 out of 10 times) stop to let me cross. And I’m talking about a regular road without a traffic light or zebra crossing.

This is very strange because I grew up in a country where cars are king and pedestrians must bow to them and not look them in the eye. Which I think is fine because Singaporeans get taxed a serious shitload of money to drive cars, so they understandably get very possessive over roads.

So, in England, I feel bad whenever drivers stop for me because I feel that it’s easier for humans to stop than for cars to stop (especially manual cars) and they use up more petrol when they stop and start again.

While their stopping for me makes me feel very warm and appreciative, I just can’t get used to it!


Stopping cars


That’s all for today. I’ll continue with my list when I feel like drawing more cartoons. Drawing is hard work, you know!

In the meantime, if you’re also a foreigner or immigrant here, feel free to share your stories. I will use them in subsequent posts and credit you if they’re not already on my list.


15 thoughts on “Strange, funny things in the UK — #1

  1. Avatar

    “I wear the trousers in this family!” just doesn’t have that punch. :P
    I hear sun is something of a commodity in England. Sort of like retirees are a commodity for Wall Street bankers.
    5 PM on weekdays and 4 PM on Sundays??! I’d start a petition on if they every cut my shopping time short :P
    Here, like Singapore the car is queen (king). If you walk out in front of a car (even in a well marked crossing), expect to be honked at, run over or arrested. Jay walking is a crime here and you only walk when told by the little “WALK” sign. Even then you are taking a risk.
    Petrol? It’s called GAS :P

  2. Avatar

    Heh, in Singapore and in the UK, we call it petrol, so there’s no problem for me there. :P Gas is what we use to make fire for cooking (well, for some households anyway, cos it’s cheaper than electricity).

    But yeah, the car situation is the same in Singapore. People get honked a lot, both pedestrians AND drivers! lol.

  3. Avatar

    I heard about the sword handling too. Something about wanting to have on coming traffic on side you wield your sword.

    Also, it’s why womens’ and mens’ shirts/jackets button up opposite sides. The men don’t want their shirt or jacket impeding the drawing of their sword, and women dont want cold air blowing into the gaps when riding side saddle. (which in UK is obviously a bad thing, maybe not in Singapore!)

    Anyway, now we use guns instead of swords, we can stand on whichever side of the escalator we like.

  4. Avatar

    I’ve always wondered about this, too. Well, not always but since finding myself standing on the wrong side of London escalators. :P At that time, I thought that it was Singapore that was wrong because UK follows many countries in escalator etiquette. So I did some basic research to find out whether escalator etiquette correlates with road driving sides because, if there is a correlation, then UK is on the wrong side of escalators (like you said on your blogpost). If there is no correlation, then it’s Singapore that is wrong.

    Anyway, what I found was that it appears to be quite random. Some countries drive on the left and stand on the left. Some opposite. Some drive on left and stand on right. And then others opposite. So, from this, I didn’t find any country/city being the odd one out.

    The only oddity is that Tokyo and Osaka have different rules. Japan is left-hand drive. In Tokyo, people stand on the left on escalators. In Osaka, people stand on the right.

    I feel that the sword handling theory isn’t relevant because, traditionally, sword hand sides first affected road traffic sides, which then in affected escalator sides (if it did). Since escalators didn’t exist when swords did, we can’t really link them directly.

    Anyway, my final conclusion is that this is way too confusing and, in the end, the truth might just be that in each city, some random guy was hired to decide which side to do anything, and he just randomly decided!

  5. Avatar

    Solution: Never walk up or down stairs or take an escalator. There has to be an elevator somewhere. Use that :P

    In my house, however, I am queen so the entire staircase is mine while I am on it! :P

  6. Avatar

    Hi Shey

    Some nice observations there!

    I would just like to point out that 3 is only something females can do. If a male sees an X in signature from a female friend he will usually completely ignore it as ‘just something females do’. Males on the other hand will never use an X, as however friendly the intention, they know it will be the over-analysed by the female :)

    As for 5, I’m afraid your high car stop rate at places where there is no official crossing is in part due to you being female. A male is far more likely to receive a loud hoot on the horn accompanied by shaking fist or middle finger gesture!

    Oh and 4 really does depend where you live. In many parts of the country and most bigger towns and cities Tesco is open 24 hours.

  7. Avatar

    @Pepper: Elevators are annoying. You have to wait for them, sometimes very long! Haha. I’m queen at home too. But there’s no staircase. :P

  8. Avatar

    @Giles: Whee! Thanks for popping into my blog! :) And thanks for the added knowledge on British norms. :P But I refuse to believe your point about no. 5! Okay, fine, I’m sure it does happen sometimes, but you people are generally very nice! Well, in Bournemouth at least. (Except the uni students who get drunk all the time and make too much noise outside my flat.)

    And I guess we do have a 24-hour Tesco nearby, but it’s tiny and doesn’t have loads of things I want, so I don’t like going there. :(

  9. Avatar

    Giddy vs Dizzy.

    When I use the word ‘giddy’, the Brits tend to look as if I speak Greek. They understand ‘dizzy’ better :/

  10. Avatar

    Haha really? I can’t remember if I’ve used that word here before. I might have and gotten funny looks too but don’t remember it. Cos nowadays I always use dizzy.

  11. Avatar

    This made me laugh :) And your illustrations are brilliant :) I found your blog via Nuffnang on Twitter :D

    The signing off with a ‘x’ drives me a bit batty actually…it’s got to the point now if I don’t sign off with a ‘x’ then I do think, what if the recipient thinks I hate them?! And similarly now, if someone doesn’t sign off with an ‘x’ then I think “damn, have I done something wrong?!” It doesn’t even mean a kiss any more, just a friendly end to a text or message (at least for me!) I ‘x’ everyone lol!!

    Our Tesco is open 24 hours a day 5 days a week, till midnight on a Saturday (or is it 10?) and then till 4 on a Sunday. Enough time to get the bits we need, but I know that the local shop is open till 10 on a Sunday, so we cope!!

    Look forward to more of your strange findings of life in the UK!

    Michelle xx (^_^)

  12. Avatar

    Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment, Michelle! :) Nice to “meet” you!

    How interesting to know that not everyone in the UK totally embraces the “x” thing. But I really have to remember more often to use it. :P

    Shey xxx :D

  13. Avatar

    lol, yeah it’s one of those weird things…I am sure it’s because of texting more that anything!

    See now, if I don’t x this, it’ll look like I’m being harsh (at least in my mind!!) I swear, I was going to write a post about ‘x’ on things, but just didn’t get around to it!!!

    Michelle ♥ <— don't get me started on hearts!!

  14. Avatar

    Wow cool. I wish you’d do the post on the “x”s. Would love to read your take on it! Now, hearts, I love hearts! At least they look like what they’re supposed to be and everyone knows what it means, so no mystery therd! :P

    x ♥ x ♥ x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.