With the current political climate between the UK and the USA I thought it would be fitting to write about what it was like to go home for a brief period to then be immersed once again in American culture.
The first is that it was actually warmer in the UK, as a true Brit (and Raynaud’s sufferer) the snow definitely is not my friend. As cliche as it is to discuss the weather, it does have an affect on you. Being back in feet of snow, in a morning and rushing, I tend to forget that I cannot do the student thing and grab the nearest pair of shoes (most likely a pair of Converse) and head off to class. But rather I have to collect all the layers one could think of just to avoid the deathly -10 degrees Celsius temperatures on a Monday morning. This brings me onto the second difference, in the UK we just do not understand coffee. We have the mighty cup of tea , sure, but the American’s beat us on a decent cup of coffee hands down. Not being a particularly good morning person, coffee is essential for surviving a day of classes (or should I say lectures- Americanisms are slowly creeping into my vocabulary). In the UK I’d pop into Costa for a coffee only to discover that 9 times out of 10 it’s burnt. There is obviously something that the British are missing in the ability to make a good coffee- much like how hard it is to get a proper English Breakfast tea (unless a large box of PG tips finds its way into your suitcase before travelling to the States).
One thing I always loved about Christmas at home was the lights on my university’s campus, the cheesy (and occasionally tear-jerking) Christmas ads, oh and not to forget the prime time Christmas tv shows. Yet, here in the States I didn’t feel any of that. They focus on Halloween, then Thanksgiving and it is almost as if Christmas is an afterthought. So I was extremely grateful to see the lights of Maidstone (although definitely not the greatest) but to me it was home and that in itself made me feel far more festive.
Another thing is alcohol. I turned 21 two weeks before coming home for the break, which for a university student to spend an almost entire semester sober was definitely challenging. UK university culture is based around cheap booze and nights out- it’s how most of the time you make your friends and socialise. Whereas that is very different here in Utah, the strict laws on alcohol (which in my opinion are a bit extreme, especially when I saw a gun shop opposite a bar Downtown: Oh America) inhibit what to me seem the social norm. Also living on a dry campus has been challenging since I’ve been back, I feel like a child having to conceal the fact that in reality I am a legal adult (in now both the UK and USA) and who should dictate what I drink? Alcohol is treated here as what any illegal drug would be in the UK. You get caught twice on campus (even if 21) with any form of alcohol and you’re out. I find it absurd. Thankfully, on returning to the UK the barbaric laws were a distant memory and I enjoyed by fair share of Christmas drinks.
Since starting my new classes for the Spring, I decided to take a Resource Conservation and Environmental Management class. Before I continue I must note that when I first started university out here I made the decision to go Vegan, simply because I had read articles and heard some very unsavoury things about the meat and dairy industry in the USA; and I am glad I did. At home we take the luxury of “free range” eggs and “British Certified” meats, here the story could not be far from that. For this class we are required to read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan (a read I definitely recommend). Pollan goes on the journey of a kernel of corn in the first section of the book, detailing how cattle are now loaded on antibiotics in overcrowded feedlots consuming pounds and pounds of corn each day in order to make red meat cheaper for Americans. Simply because in the 1960s Earl Butz encouraged farmers to increase yields of corn which ultimately led to a surplus of corn and the introduction of feedlots and the corn syrup industry. I was shocked to find just how much of the processed food in America all stems back to the humble corn kernel. But the modifications the agriculture industry are making over here to accommodate for cheap corn feed is ultimately damaging our own food chain and has had a direct link to the stereotype of America being “fat”. Now my knowledge of the UK agriculture industry is very basic, but I am thankful that we seem to take our produce more seriously and have careful considerations as to what goes into our meats before we consume them. (And yes, going home and having a full roast dinner was definitely a highlight after spending 4 months of no meat).
My final point of difference is the air pollution. Today in Salt Lake City the PM2.5 level was at 148 (unhealthy for sensitive groups and 2 away from being unhealthy for all) and almost triple the 54 value for London today . Despite having an education that has made me aware of the damage the human population has had on our climate and environment (regardless of what the 45th President of the United States has to say); I had never really had a first hand experience of severe air pollution. Living in a village outside of a town back home in the UK to me the air seems clean and easy to breathe in, a stark contrast to the high altitude dry air of Salt Lake City. Due to its geographical nature the city lies in a valley which enables the smog to get trapped in the depression of topography, coupled with a couple of cold and bright days it allows the smog to linger. PM2.5 is a particle that is smaller than the width of a hair strand, making it very easy to breathe in and can result in respiratory and cardiovascular health implications. There have been countless studies conducted in China over deaths due to high PM2.5 levels. And today was my first real struggle with these invisible particles, walking back to my dorm there was a haze that surrounded the City’s skyline and the distant mountains were nowhere to be seen, I found that what is usually a typical walk for me was actually a challenge. Breathing became more difficult and my throat still has a slight burn hours after being outside. Yet I had no real consideration for this to be such a problem in a city that was so small compared to London. I will be extremely grateful for when I can breathe the far cleaner air of the English countryside.
So as a conclusion, on top of all the protests currently going on both in the USA and the UK over political and ideological differences (and perhaps a hint of stupidity- no name reference needed); these are some cultural and environmental differences that I have noticed in my short time of living in the USA.
Thanks for reading, and until the next blog.