Dispatches from England: Strange British Things I’ve Had to Google Since Moving to the UK

I’m coming up on my 6-month anniversary of our move to England. I laugh now at some of the most basic things that confused me when we first moved here, and yet I still find myself puzzled by certain cultural differences. I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the things I’ve had to turn to the internet for help with over the past few months as we settled into daily life here. Here’s a small snapshot of my Google search history.

What’s a conker? Throughout the fall season, I kept reading about “playing conkers” or encouraging your kids to find conkers. When my son came home from school talking about doing an art project with conkers, I figured I’d better get a handle on this. Apparently it’s the seed from a chestnut tree, and also a popular children’s game here. (I’m guessing Brits moving to the American Midwest probably end up googling “what’s cornhole” for a very similar reason!)

Will they sing God Save the King? Upon the birth of the Royal Baby, I got to wondering what happens to the national anthem when a man sits on the throne. Turns out, it will change to God Save the King, naturally. I’ve just never heard that version, given how long the Queen has been running the show.


What is Pudsey Bear? A few weeks ago, the whole country rallied around the charitable cause of Children in Need. There were school fundraisers, coffee mornings, and nationally televised telethons all to raise money for various children’s charities. My son’s nursery encouraged the kids to dress up like Pudsey Bear one morning. I had no idea who or what it was, but it is the charity’s mascot, pictured above. (Sort of like Smokey the Bear represents the prevention of forest fires in the U.S.)

Where is Wayne Rooney from? My husband and I are big sports fans, so we’ve tried to watch plenty of football matches (note that I’ve learned enough to know not to call it soccer!) Wayne Rooney is one of the most popular players here, and we were watching an interview with him after a match. We think it’s fun to try to distinguish the various accents you find around the UK and his was particularly unique. Turns out he’s from Liverpool.

How do I cook a frozen pork pie? I’ve had to research a lot of stuff about cooking since moving here. Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, ounces to grams, etc. When we first moved here, someone gave us a pork pie as a gift. I didn’t want it to go bad, but I also didn’t really know what it was, so I put it in the freezer. Just the other day, I was scrambling to come up with something to make for dinner and saw it in the freezer. We now know all about pork pies and how delicious they are, but I didn’t have a clue as to how to turn it from the ice blob that it was into a tasty meal.

I can’t help but wonder what expats did before the invention of Google. It certainly makes my life easier on a daily basis, providing everything from postal codes to nearby parks so that I can find my way there, to figuring out which stores ship to the UK.

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  1. avatarJennifer says

    :) Sixteen month-er here and I still Google a lot…..a new one to me the other day was “a puncher” which was my flat tire.

  2. avatarMinerva says

    Most people eat Pork Pies cold…as they would for a picnic or as part of a ‘cold table’ with pickles, cooked meats & salads……but a hot Pork Pie is a joy……the jelly (when cold) turns into runny, meaty, dribbly juices that run down your chin when you take a bite.
    Just don’t ever buy a dreadful factory-made Pork Pie from a Supermarket…………if it’s not a ‘Melton Mowbray Pork Pie’ it isn’t worthy of the name!

    Oh, & one small correction….’Conkers’ come from Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) trees, not to be confused with Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), the fruit of which you can eat.

  3. avatarTbonetedh says

    I’ve been here two years, And still have to ask my Brit bride from time to time. I even got my UK drivers licence… And passed my life in the uk test… Wheee

  4. avatarFrancie says

    Ahem. His name is SMOKEY BEAR. NOT: Smokey “the” Bear. :( If you’re describing him, yes, you can say Smokey, the bear, to differentiate him from Smokey, the dog. LOOK IT UP.

  5. avatarMichele R says

    Nicole, what people did before Google was so ubiquitous, was join a FAWCO club like the American Women of Surrey. The clubs are indispensable for helping expats get along in their new home. And they have loads of fun things to do: monthly meetings, charity Christmas bazaars, interest groups (quilting and stitchery club got me loads of great friends), etc. It is very much worth it. I lived in the UK for 8 years and AWS was a huge help. I did have the added advantage of a British husband, but AWS saved my sanity. As for that conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius and other problems, check with the Great Little Trading Company or Lakeland (the kitchen store, not the leather goods store) for great conversion charts on a fridge magnet. Absolutely one of the best purchases I ever made and I still use it.

  6. avatar says

    It’s so funny-strange. I have NEVER heard it said “Smokey Bear” on TV or elsewhere. Only “Smokey the Bear.” Maybe it’s said differently in different states in the US?

  7. avatar says

    I had the same trouble when I moved to the USA. I thought they spoke English over here. This was years before any PC. I just asked someone. Got a lot of odd looks, especially when I asked ”why would someone sell their garage, and keep their house” guess you had the same reaction about a boot sale. Hope you enjoy living in the good old UK.

  8. avatar says

    When I left the UK in 1994 the temperature was always in farenheit so no problem here in the US. When I returned, a scant 5 years later, everyone seemed to have totally forgotten about farenheit. Which was bizarre because people STILL talk about things like old money and still use feet and inches and pounds and ounces.

  9. avatar says

    Make the best of both!!!!
    I really like and miss metric system, decimals, 24 hour clock, and logical calendar.
    1. Metric system makes perfect sense: just add of subtract one Zero or decimal place, and all units come in logical relation. Not to mention that we are the only country still dealing with non-metric units. Back in primary school we were taught that fractions are entirely outdated, illiterate and incompatible with any technologies and electronic forms of calculations. Back home in the US, being an engineer, I have to deal with drag of conversions feet to yards, to miles, to inches, and odd numbers…
    DOTs (state departments of transportation) had tried to convert to metric in the past, and failed miserably due to inability of contractors, suppliers and manufacturers to tackle metric. Totally…..
    I haven’t seen anything as dumb as 5/16, 17/32…. how far can the calcs of this example of infinite series go? All I need is a bolt and nut or a wrench! Switching from feet to meters might be too complicated for simple-minded Joe, but at least use decimals of a foot- not fractions!
    2. Here comes that AM- PM issue. At least our military got it right after dealing with am-pm confusion causing scrambled missions and getting someone killed because some Dude on the comms mixed up AM with PM. I come from a military family, and I am glad I know and use 24-hr system. I have noticed lately that others are trying to tag along….
    3. Why does our American date format start from the middle? Month/day/year? Just another backwards custom. I use day/month /year which makes sense, or in file and directory format year/month/ date to organize my documents, and I see others following. Makes sense.
    4. A week begins on Sunday?????? I thought it was called WEEKEND! Another case of idiocy. Mine starts on Monday.

    But as most of Americans, I hate soccer. Most of my schoolmates in UK were either playing or watching rugby, not soccer. Isn’t soccer like some iconic Latino or Mid-eastern game?
    Like a pack of bent little guys chasing a ball that resembles hexagon- shaped, warped chess board? Like no game plan? And maxed out, thrashed, trippy looking fans soccer fans wearing dorky scarfs? Totally, Bro.
    Real men play rugby and football (I am referring to The Football – well you know, Super Bowl, NFL, tackles, touchdowns, quarterbacks, offensive guards, wide receivers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger?) And our football fans know how to tailgate in style and have fun at the game without violence.

  10. avatar says

    Some interesting facts from the past: when I lived out in UK, there was like totally awesome cultural meltdown and exchange going on: the same roots- different development. I was visiting Ireland during school break in my senior years, and we were exchanging river dance for Arizona two-step and line dance, teaching each other during our drinking hangouts. I am sure we all know that American country dance and music hailed from Celtic tunes and moves.
    My school mates started wearing handcrafted in TX cowboy boots that I was supplying them with. They are expensive by the way.
    One day my friend’s father was in my face saying ‘One more time my son calls me Dude or Bro and says that He is So Amped, like Stoked with my Totally Tubular new Porsche tearing up tarmac along Gnarly Twisties’, I will have to ask you to stop teaching him that ‘bloody’ California slang!!!!!’ Daddy was maxed out .
    That was Tripendicular.

  11. avatarBill says

    We have LOTS of regional accents for the size of the place. I find that a lot of the time people who visit/move here expect all the English to have a cockney accent or speak the Queen’s English. Furthermore, it’s Autumn here, not Fall! 😀

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