From Vegemite to Marmite: The Blighty Culture Shock Experience

By: Tania Quast

My initiation into the culture shock experience was my first trip out of Australia. Rather than ease my way into overseas travel like most normal people do, I jumped head first into Nepal and India starting with a 20 day trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal. It sounded good at the time and it actually was, but when I landed in the tiny airport in Kathmandu to be greeted by soldiers in camouflage greens holding machine guns I was a little scared. The alien like scenery I then saw through the bus window on the way to my hotel also left me wondering what the hell I was doing. Needless to say it was one of my top travel experiences and the catalyst to seek out more.

As I sit here admiring the scene of Tower Bridge on a rare sunny afternoon I realise I’m a world away from that first ever travel experience and the ones that followed. If I could list all the culture shock experiences I’ve had I’d need a book, but today we’re here for Blighty.

I’m lucky as I’ve been here before. I’ve done the working holiday visa that a lot of Aussies do and now I’m here for love. Yes I’m now a Mrs and not a Miss.

So what stands out for me in terms of Blighty culture shock that I’d share with you whether you’re new, old or never been?
  1. That black liquid gold we Aussies know as Vegemite isn’t a staple over here. Instead they have something known as Marmite. Don’t expect it to have the same consistency or taste. And I will let you be the judge of whether you like it or not. Personally I’ll stick to Vegemite.
  2. Be careful if you’re going shopping for a pair of thongs. Thongs actually are g-strings, so you may get an odd look or two when asking for them in a shoe shop. Instead ask for flip flops.
  3. Do you want to use the Tube? Then remember to stand on the right and walk on the left.
  4. The houses are like match box houses. When you’re peering out of a plane window they all look the same, tightly nestled one against the other for miles and miles – hence the match box comment. Two story, narrow brick homes with chimneys. Rarely do you find a single story home like in Oz.
  5. Feel like a bag of chips? Then ask for Crisps. Chips in Blighty are those hot fried potatoes you buy from your local fish and chip shop. On the subject of crisps you may like to know that they are a major food source here and are served with nearly everything you buy. There is also an amazing array of flavours I’ve never seen before e.g. prawn cocktail.
  6. Blighty is the capital of chain stores. Costa, Starbucks etc. are everywhere. If you’re like me and have been spoilt by an array of gorgeous little cafes you may have to search a bit harder to find one in your local area.
  7. Food and groceries particularly fruit and vegetables are a lot cheaper and there’s a range of stuff you just can’t find very easily back home e.g. okra, mooli, dragons fruit. It’s a great opportunity to try something different. Oh yes and Zucchini are called Courgette.
  8. It’s a land of convenience. Pre-packaged meals make up the majority of the fridge sections at supermarkets. I’ve never seen so many options in all my life. You can practically just add water, heat and you have a Heston’s 3 course roast meal.... amazing! The other thing you will notice is everything is wrapped in plastic and then wrapped again, in plastic– it’s a land fill paradise.
  9. Prepare to not be understood. My British husband still doesn’t understand everything I say (don’t tell him neither do I occasionally). So just be prepared to repeat yourself when out and about on the street.
  10. Constant Chicken Little days. Grey skies are always kissing the tree tops in Blighty. Sunshine is a rarity. Bring your Vitamin D tablets or ensure you book a sunny holiday in the Mediterranean to get a top up.
  11. I am concerned some people suffer from fashion dyslexia. For instance, the famous Aussie Ugg Boot seems to be worn outside.... mmmm back home you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing your uggies outside.
  12. Bottle shops are replaced by the Off License, which really is a little delicatessen. Every supermarket also has an alcohol section. So if you’re short of a bottle of red, head down to your local Offy.

Well I think that about captures everything I can think of right now. If I kept going it would end up being pages long and I really don’t want to bore you.

While the Blighty culture shock is a little tamer than the holy cows in India or dodging the Maoist soldiers in Nepal, it still doesn’t make the process easy, particularly if you are living in a new place rather than just visiting for a time. But remember, home is where the heart is and there is always the option of a plane trip home to see your family, share a sparkling shiraz and BBQ under sparkling blue skies and glorious sunshine. Aaaah bliss.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingTania Quast is an Australian expat living in England. Blog description: Recently married. Quit my job in Oz. Moved to the UK. Miss Haighs chocolate and good wine. This is my Blog with a lot of random thoughts and experiences of my time in Blighty.
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Contest Comments » There are 10 comments

EmmaK wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks for these funny observations on British life. You are right Uggies are so ugly they should never be seen outside. I'm a Brit in USA and you've just made me realise just how much I miss prawn cocktail crisps!

Tania wrote 9 years ago:

Thankyou to everyone that has made a comment or shared and liked my article so far. It's nice to know people read the things we write ! ps... I'm so glad people share my thoughts on the Uggies, thought it was only me

Hibbo wrote 9 years ago:

Oh so true :)

Viks wrote 9 years ago:

Love hearing your perspective and experiences, I have to say as a Brit living in Oz I practically sprint to the postbox and back in my uggs should my neighbors see me, it's not cool!! I can see you now standing in Bargain Booze looking for a bottle of Lanson and a bag of prawn cocktail crisps wearing your uggs and Peter Alexander trackie daks xx

Hamish wrote 9 years ago:

Wow you are really the literary buff, loved all 12 observations ... great article although it works both ways in understanding Aussies also ;-)

Reena Conlin wrote 9 years ago:

Great great article Tania really love reading your blogs, keep it all happening sounds like you will have to get used to that marmite .

Crystal Goes To Europe wrote 9 years ago:

I loved the comparisons between the UK and Australia! I'm not too familiar with either culture, but your descriptions of England made me nostalgic for the handful of trips I've taken there to see family. I really enjoyed your writing style as well :) I also believe that if the world shared the Aussie philosophy on Uggs, the world would be a better place.

Ann Sharma wrote 9 years ago:

Such an erudite description of some of the weird and wonderful ways of the British. If I did not live in the Uk I would be taking the next plane to London. Long may you continue to thrill us all with your observations of us. As to Uggs, I only wear mine indoors in the winter, wonderful for warming the feet!!

Tricia wrote 9 years ago:

Well Tania I'm more of a Promite Girl myself.Ugg boots were such popular footwear in the 70's and 80's (showing my age now), we would wear them everywhere. Yes people are wearing them again heaven forbid out in public, but heh, who are we to make judgements as long as the person wearing them is happy. I must say they are very comfortable and keep your feet very warm. I have a question that was posed the Brits give you a pickle when you buy hot chips? It saddens me to hear and see so much pre packaged foods in shops for ?convienience/laziness when there is so much wonderful fresh produce available. The UK is not the only place lacking in Vit D, unfortunately Australians are also lacking in this and have to take supplements. Yes lucky for us we have more sun shining on us and I would not trade that luxury. I think you are adapting amazingly well Tania, I do envy that you are so close to such incredible history,stories and are able to explore the country with eagerness. This is my history dorkiness coming out now..well I think I will finish up, please keep the stories coming, love reading your adventures and perceptions on life in Blighty.xo

Trixi wrote 9 years ago:

Mmmmm.... in my ugg boots, drinking a milo with vegemite on toast for a very comforting supper. Don't think I can live in Blighty without those three things. Thanks for the comparisons... an interesting snapshot of life in the UK.

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