How can I live like a local?

It is so common for people to say that they want to get the full experience here and live like a local. It is admirable and I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it is unlikely. You cannot expect to change your whole life just because you move to England. There are habits that we as Americans have that prevent that. Having said that, here are my tips to helps you integrate as much as possible if that is what you are after.

First off, the reason why I say that you will never be able to live like a local because you cannot fully understand how people live in the circumstances you are under. I am not saying this to be mean, but there are several things that prohibit you from really experiencing living like a local. I only really know this from my transition from being out of the Air Force to really living like a local.

The things prohibiting you from living like a local:

  1. You do not have to pay council tax. This is a huge cost that people have to have. It is paid 10 times a year and is based on the value of your house. I live in Cambridge and my house is in band E. I pay £1883.25 towards the things that council provides such as schools, rubbish collection, libraries and other things.
  2. You get money for your rent. This is a good thing for you but why this is keeping you from living like a local is that it makes you be able to afford homes that people of your same age and situation would only dream of occupying.
  3. We pay $10 per gallon, and on base you get it around $3.
  4. Some people struggle to see that things are done differently around the world. I hate to say it, they often look down at the differences. I think you should embrace it, you might learn something.
  5. You have a safety net with the military that is not reproduced in the civilian world both here and in the US.
But this does not mean you should not try! You need to step out of your comfort zone.

How you can live like a local.
  1. Shop offbase at the local grocery stores. The food is a bit different but it is better. It is fresher and they do not allow as many chemicals as in their food, you can see which ones are banned in Europe. Also it is a way to give back to the local community for being over here. If you really think you will go to the market everyday, give up your pursuit for an American style house, instead have a house that you can afford. 
  2. Don't always tie experiencing England with spending money. On the weekends, a lot of locals go for walks with their friends or family. You get to see so much in a different view. Also many museums are free and take advantaged of local events.
  3. Eat like a local. Do not pick your chips (fries) up with your fingers, instead use your fork. Here are how you should hold them and use them. 
  4. Replace your coffee with tea. In one day 165 million cups of tea are consumed in the UK.
  5. Recycle more. I have actually spoken to a lot of people about this and America is viewed to be wasteful. The British and Europeans have been told that they must recycle what they can to save the world but feel its useless if the Americans don't reduce the engine sizes in their vehicles and recycle more. Here are some recycling tips.
  6. Volunteer offbase. I did this with the Brownies. I learn new games and songs and other things. Plus you give back to the nation that is hosting you.
  7. Do you have a hobby or passion? Well, find a group offbase. You learn more than that area, you learn customs and culture.
  8. Listen to the radio, get to learn the issues plaguing the UK. Their concerned with different issues and their government runs differently. You may think it is wrong but perhaps you can see why it works. Also you will get to know about local bands and other things that you might be able to use in conversation.
  9. Watch British telly. They love their soaps which on at night instead of during the day. I watch them all Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks.
  10. Eat the local food. Many people ask, "is there a good place to eat around ___?", locals don't do this, they just go out to eat (I know, I tried this once with my friend that works in London, he laughed at me!). Also people do not eat out as much as Americans do because of the other expenses that they have that you don't. So when they go out it is a special time. That is also why you really won't see a lot of children out at restaurants and if you do they go when it first opens for dinner.
  11. Have a kebab. I remember the first time I had one over here when I was deployed. Yummy!
  12. Use your local takeaway. We have Saturday nights as takeaway night. I think it is quite common over here. 
  13. If you have a dog, walk it regularly. Also people talk to you if you have a dog, especially if he is a bouncy golden retriever like mine :)
  14. Dress like them. Here are rules for men and women. You are spotted 10 yards away.
  15. Drive an European car. Many people say that they don't have problems driving their cars around here but it is really best if you get a car here. The American engine sizes are way bigger than required and you stick out like a sore thumb.Also many families only have one car because it is so expensive to keep them I downsized when I moved to Cambridge where I can cycle.
  16. If can, get a job offbase. You spend a lot of time with the locals then and will pick things up quickly.
  17. If your children are in elementary school you should enroll them in a British school for the experience and because they are ahead. I do not suggest this for middle school and high school children as the curriculum is too different. Then you can be involved in the school events.
I hope that this will give you the confidence to make the most of your time here.

All the Best!

American to Britain


  1. Great advice, Kim! I'm happy to say that I'm doing most of the things on your list...HOORAY!


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