Those who have moved internationally before, realise that it will take some time to adjust to the English culture. However, culture shock often comes as a surprise to the first-time movers. Many move to London in the hopes of an adventure or enhancing their career, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Unrealistic expectations are the biggest cause for relocation failure. The more down-to-earth, open-minded and flexible you are, the better chances of success you will have in London. If any member of the family is strongly against the move, consider it again.
Practically every global mover experiences culture shock, which is a natural reaction to the new environment. Even if you are moving to London from the Western World, don’t expect that the English culture and customs are the same as yours.
In the beginning you are likely to experience a honeymoon period, when everything new is exciting and fun. After a while, the foreign ways become annoying. Irritation, tiredness, withdrawal and homesickness are typical symptoms of culture shock. It is important to keep a positive mind and not to give in to negativity. Your move has been successful after you have learned to accept and cherish your new environment as it is.
The best way to cope with culture shock is to make English friends and learn as much as you can about the country – its culture, its history and its political system. This will make it easier for you to understand the English mindset and the way things are done here. It can also be beneficial to share thoughts with other expatriates. However, avoid ending up amongst moaners, whose company delays or even prevents your adjustment.
The English are by nature reserved, which is often mistaken as coldness. Actually, they just see it polite not to impose themselves on you. With time, you will notice they are friendly and considerate. Affectionate names are commonly used in everyday situations. Don’t be surprised if the shop assistant calls you “darling” or “dear”!
Handshake is the normal way of greeting people when meeting for the first time and in formal situations. Otherwise, a “hello” is enough. In general, the English find it uncomfortable to stand too close to another person. A kiss on the cheek, or a hug, is usually reserved to family members and close friends. This is changing though with the younger generation.
The English are extremely polite. Doors are being held for a person behind, queues are definitely not jumped and “thank you”, “please” and “excuse me” are constantly used. When standing in an escalator stay on the right-hand side so that those in a hurry can pass you.
The English are known for their witty sense of humour that is often sarcastic and self-mocking or totally nutty and silly. They are also masters of joking with a straight face. After a while, you will get the hang of it and be able to share a good laugh. Disagreements, too, are often disguised in humour, since the English don’t like open confrontation. In this way, English are very indirect.
When invited to an English home, don’t arrive more than 15 minutes late. It is polite to bring a small gift, like flowers, chocolate or a bottle of wine with you. The English value their privacy, so don’t expect to get a tour of the house and avoid asking too personal questions. Especially talking about earnings is considered bad manners. Steer also away from politics and religion unless you know your host well. A thank you note afterwards is an appreciated gesture.
Even though English culture prevails in London, it is important to realise how multicultural the capital is. It’s no wonder that so many expatriates find it easy to settle here. No matter where you come from or what language you speak, you will hardly stand out as different.
Of Londoners 37% has been born outside the UK and 22% identify themselves as non-British. Half of the expat population originates from Poland, India, Ireland, France, Italy, Portugal, Nigeria, US, Pakistan and Germany. Together they form 10% of the capital’s population.
The English culture determines the way business is done in London. You are likely to find your colleagues polite, diplomatic and helpful. Ability to work in a team is appreciated, and self-promotion is looked down on. Open confrontations are avoided, and disagreements are settled with courtesy. Emotions are rarely shown, but dry humour is commonly used, especially in difficult situations.
For business meetings, be on time and expect to get down to business after few polite words. Meetings are very task orientated and usually end with everybody knowing what was agreed. Keep your presentations short and matter of fact. Avoid too animated language unless you know it to be the company culture.
The old-boys’ network still prevails in the UK where the family name and schools attended play big part. Females and those from different social classes or nationality find this often frustrating.
Luckily Londoners are used to foreigners and understand different cultures and approaches of viewing things. It is quite likely that some of your colleagues are not English themselves. This can also be challenging since you need to communicate with people from various cultural backgrounds.
To work in the UK you need a National Insurance Number. You can find more information about National Insurance, taxation, salaries and living costs at Family to London’s Finances section. If you are not an EU or Swiss citizens check also the visa requirements. For help with CV, to compare your qualifications and to check if you can practise your profession in the UK, visit ECCTIS website. National Careers Service gives useful advice for applying for jobs.
Help with CV and qualification comparison (ECCTIS)
How to look and apply for a job (National Careers Service)
One of the main causes for relocation failure is the unhappiness of the trailing spouse. This is especially so, if the move means abandoning a former career or the relationship is not stable. When the working parent and children dive into work and school environments, the parent at home is often left hung out to dry. Without social interaction and professional esteem many partners experience loneliness and low self-worth. Especially male spouses have a hard time finding other househusbands and feel that they need to continuously explain their status.
It is important to get out of the house and seek friends. This can be done by participating in the school’s PTA (=Parent Teacher Association), joining a local sports centre and continuing with old hobbies. There are also international women’s clubs where female partners can meet other expatriates and take part in various activities.
Your spouse can also embrace the change in life by retraining to a new job or complementing his/her previous studies. Many local councils and private enterprises organise adult education courses. The Open University offers distance learning courses.
Find Courses (National Careers Service)
The Open University
Moving abroad with toddlers is fairly easy since they adapt and learn new languages quickly. The older your children are, the more challenges you will be facing. Especially teenagers find it hard to leave their friends behind, and it might be difficult to find a suitable school and curriculum for them. Read more about daycare and education options at Childcare and Schools sections of Family to London.
Try to involve your children with the decision-making as much as reasonable. Listen to their opinions of the schools and properties you are looking at and seek information, where in London they can continue their hobbies. If possible take them along to a pre-move visit to London or at least tell them as much as possible about their new hometown. Help your child with extra studies or arrange tutoring to ease his/her adjustment to a new curriculum even before the move. Without diminishing your children’s concerns, demonstrate a positive attitude.
After the move, urge your children to invite friends over and to take part in after-school activities. Be ready to spend more time with them yourself, helping with homework and doing fun stuff. Relocation can even further strengthen your family ties.
As time goes by, your child will show certain Third Culture Kid (TCK) traits. TCKs follow some of the cultural behaviours of their parents’ and some of the host country’s but don’t fully identify with either of the cultures. Instead, they find like-minded people amongst other TCKs. Living between two cultures can cause rootlessness and difficulties committing to people, especially if the child relocates several times. On the positive side, Third Culture Kids are usually bi- or trilingual, culturally astute, educational achievers and mature in their social skills – all characteristics that global employers seek in their future employees.
If English is not your mother tongue, make sure that each member of the family will learn it as quickly as possible. There is no better way to learn a foreign language than by immersing oneself in a country where it is spoken. However, start studying English back home before you move. British Council has a good free website on learning English with vocabulary, grammar and listening exercises and interesting articles. There are different sections for kids, teens and adults.
Continue the language studies when in London. Consider sending your children to an English language summer course to ease their start at school. There are courses for different age groups, and some can also give your children academical guidance. For adults, there are several language schools in London that have general or career based courses.
In the beginning, when communicating skills in English are still limited, it is a good idea to watch local TV and read English language magazines. Find topics that are of interest to your family members. Watching or reading something that they enjoy, will encourage them to struggle it through in a foreign language. Try also to make friends with English speakers, even when there is a good sized population of your countrymen in London. Your family will master English only by speaking it, and the longer you leave it, the harder it will get.