An American girl in London


Emily Chudzik, Staff Writer

When I last wrote, I was just getting used to the London life. I was struggling to understand some of the slight differences between British and American culture. Like, why do they call fries chips, chips crisps and cookies biscuits? How the heck am I supposed to figure out how many kilograms equal one pound, and vice versa? And how in the world are people able to drive on the left side of the road?

Since then, I have been here for a little over two weeks. Things are finally becoming clearer, but I’m still a little weary about certain things. It still doesn’t make sense to me that cars have the right of way and not pedestrians… Anyway, the one thing that doesn’t differ from America to England is the fact that I’m a poor college student.

In fact, it’s even worse in England. Thanks to the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the British Pound, I have significantly less money here than I did back at Millikin. One British Pound equals roughly 1.56 U.S. Dollars. When it’s laid out like that, it doesn’t seem like much of a difference. Going out for dinner and getting a meal for 13.39 pounds seems like pretty good deal, right? Only when it’s converted into U.S. Dollars (20.75 dollars) does it feel like a huge rip off.

I thought it was hard to stretch a dollar when having to buy groceries for the Woods. Whenever my roommate and I would go to Kroger, we would buy a whole month’s worth. We would search high and low for the best deals and the cheapest brands, and we could buy anything from food to shampoo to movies there. Strangely enough, London’s grocery stores stick to just that: groceries. No makeup, no office supplies and no movies. The stores themselves are also incredibly miniscule compared to the supersized ones in the states, which makes for a stressful shopping trip when more than 20 people are there at one time.

On the upside, England’s produce and other foods don’t have as many harmful chemicals and preservatives in them. The strawberries here are actually normal sized rather than the size of an adult fist. I’ve found that I like the taste of their chips – excuse me, crisps – better than America’s because they use less salt, and there is a plethora of new foods that I have fallen in love with. Some of my favorites are Hobnobs (a crunchy and delicious biscuit), crumpets and, you guessed it, fish and chips. Man, is that dish absolutely scrumptious.

However, there are some things that I hold sacred when it comes to food that they clearly don’t. For example, most people here drink instant coffee at home… Yep, that’s right. Instant. Coffee. I haven’t even seen a Keurig for sale in stores. Fortunately, it isn’t as awful as it sounds, but it’s definitely not something I recommend trying. While I’m on the subject of coffee, they apparently don’t believe in using creamer. That was a huge disappointment. I also had to go to three different stores before I found some sugar. On the other hand, they do have a wide variety of tea, which is quite exciting. That, of course, was to be expected.

Despite both the higher prices and need for budgeting, I find that I really enjoy shopping for groceries here. When you find the right place, it’s actually quite easy to find cheap and healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables are much cheaper than they are at Kroger. Most stores also offer ethic foods at reasonable prices. I recently tried naan bread, part of South Asian cuisine, for the first time, and I loved it. I bought a package with two large pieces for less than two pounds. It has since lasted me for four different meals. I won the bargain battle of that shopping trip, for sure.

Just like in America, being a poor college student comes with great responsibility and sacrifice. It’s important to decide how important something truly is. You have to ask yourself if buying tickets for a tour of the actual Harry Potter set if worth more than having to cut some corners when grocery shopping (which, of course, it is). It’s absolutely essential to be on top of your transactions, or you could find yourself blindsided later on when your bank statement comes out.