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Surviving 1st Year: an International students’ survival guide

Welcome to the UK! The land of tea, the Queen, and people who say “How do you do?” in a posh accent while holding an umbrella… Or so you thought! 

Already perplexed? Fear not! We’re here to tell you what to really expect once you get to London.

Food (and alcohol)

You may already be shuddering at the mere mention of fish finger sandwiches, spaghetti hoops on toast (I still have nightmares), Chip Butties or the worst of all – the legendary Spotted Dick. The stories you’ve heard – they’re all true. 

First things first, British people have no concept of what is acceptable or not as food, and, because they never see the sun, they eat disgustingly early: dinner is usually between 6 and 6.30. If you’re Mediterranean, you’ll have to do some major adapting. Our tip: stick to the Friday fish and chips (the one good thing to come out of this country’s cuisine) and never say no to a cup of tea: you’ll have an instant friend. Also – never buy the tomatoes labelled ‘salad’, Brits wouldn’t know a ripe tomato if it was in front of them: get the ones labeled ‘vine’. 

Another thing you might not be used to is the drinking. That may have to change. Brits tend to drink a lot – almost certainly to shed their legendary awkwardness. As any self-respecting British person will tell you : a real night out ends in either a blackout, tears, or A&E (urgent care*).  . Take it from us – pretending to be drunk works just as well (they won’t notice), and is much less painful the day after. 

Here’s a handy grocery shopping guide depending on your budget. One thing to note – shops here are open very late, especially the smaller ones in Central London, which is great when you need to go out for mixers (you know, what you add to the vodka/gin/rum to make it taste less horrible).

TV

TV is a big part of British culture and they have countless TV shows with strange premises that reflect just how confused some British people can be when it comes to dating – the first one that comes to mind is Naked Attraction, a dating show where… well, you get the premise. 

If you don’t like trashy TV, you might think you’ll hate Love Island but trust me: you NEED to watch it, if only to understand the memes. This show dominates all British life during the summer for its six weeks of episodes that are on. Every. Single. Night. The show itself is hard to describe – basically, people date until someone hotter comes along to the island and they ‘recouple’, blaming it on a ‘genuine connection’. Watch it (and get hooked) on ITV Hub.

If you want to become a True Brit you have to watch the Great British Bake Off. This quintessentially British show is basically a competition between 12 bakers. You’ll come for the showy desserts, but you’ll stay for the innuendos. The show’s already started, but you can catch up on what you’ve missed it on Channel 4’s streaming service, or on Netflix where new episodes are posted every friday. 

Navigating the hurdles of British culture won’t earn you a medal, although it’ll feel like you deserve one for knowing that ‘I wouldn’t mind’ means ‘yes’ or for using ‘sorry’ as punctuation (Hi, sorry, would you mind handing me a pen? Sorry!). However, once you do, you’re in for a treat – you might be able to befriend the mysterious Brit in your class (it’s LSE, there’s probably only one per class) and even get to enjoy great British humour. I promise – the Brits’outer shell of politeness is about as hermetic as May’s many failed Brexit plans. Sooner than you think, they’ll be (drunkenly) belting out ABBA songs on karaoke with you, and really, that’s all anyone ever wants.

*Call 999 (A&E/Fire/Police) in an emergency and 111 (NHS Direct) if it is urgent but non-emergency so that they can recommend what to do next. Go to 111.nhs.uk for more info.

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