I was lucky to spend 6 months in Manchester for my Exchange (Erasmus) experience, and I must say it was the first time I set foot in England.
Obviously, as a language student, I previously made my research, and I was also obliged -during my secondary school years – to learn by heart not only all the main monuments in London, but also the most important historical events and the main capital cities of the UK.
I was not prepared for what I saw: I would have expected Manchester to be mainly composed by blonde-and-blue-eye fellows, but actually I met lot of Indian and Spanish people there. On the other hand, if I think back about the first time I went to London later on, I must say that we Italians are really easy to find, from the airport to the main tube stations, whereas in Manchester, except from my fellow students, there were no Italian people at all. And, at least according to the idea I had in mind, also English people were difficult to spot between all the other ethnic groups. But, after all, wasn’t it a stereotype the one I had in mind?
Also, during my first day of University, I decided to have a break and go out for a walk. It was about 11 am and I still had not eaten my breakfast, quite unusual for me if I must say. There was a nice place where there was written “breakfast” on the blackboard outside, and I pushed the door without even thinking, suddenly ordering it. Well, maybe I should have remembered what I learnt at school, as what I saw served was not a foaming coffee with some piece of cake, but the typical English breakfast: beans in tomato sauce, a sausage, some bread and a hot tea with milk.
Once again, I wrongly assumed that there would have been a notice like “typical English breakfast served here” or something similar written on the blackboard, but this was the distinction according to me – or it would have been for tourists – whereas it was not so given for granted. It is especially important to remember that breakfast is maybe more important in England than in Italy as lunch is usually a quick and not big meal.
In addiction to this, the very same day I was amazed by the fact that, when I finished classes at about 5 pm, many local people where in pubs drinking beer: these places where crowded almost as at night, and I would have expected them drinking tea, whereas it was not definitely this they were favouring. Later on, I also learnt that beer is in fact one of the least expensive drinks and also a very good way of socializing.
Keeping on talking about cultural differences, one day I went into a shop for some paper supplies, and put the money on the counter. The shopping assistant seemed a little taken aback by it, but then gave me my change without comments. One English friend next to me explained that it was rude to do like that, and it would have been better if I gave him the money on the hand. That is why now I do the same here in Italy, and sometimes cashiers seem amazed by my gesture too, but suddenly reciprocate and put the change directly on my hand, usually with a smile.
Finally, it is important for Italian to remember not to kiss English people on both cheeks when they do not know them well, as they could find it bizarre, but I must say that once they become friends with you they are happy to be the initiators of the salutation gesture.