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Flying Back From UK To US After 4 Years

I moved back to the US from the UK after 4 years. Here are 9 things that have surprised me the most so far.

Flying Back From UK To US After 4 Years
The author moved to NYC after living in London for four years.

  • Earlier this year, I moved back to the US after living in the UK for four years.
  • The transition has been a bigger adjustment than I expected, and I’ve felt some real culture shock.
  • Surprises include getting my head around tipping and realizing how much Americans love a parade.

Earlier this year, I decided to move back to the US after four years of living in the UK, where I spent most of my life.

I grew up in and around London but lived in Boston for four years during college before moving back home to kick-start my career. For a long time, moving back to the US was a thought that very rarely crossed my mind, for several reasons. In truth, I’ve always felt more at home with British customs and I loved living close to my family members, who are mostly based there.

That said, I was ready for a change of pace this year. So on October 17, I brought three suitcases to London’s Heathrow Airport and boarded a flight destined for JFK in New York.

It’s been less than a month, but I can already say this transition has been way more of an adjustment than I’d anticipated. From my experience, culture shock, even if you have lived in a country before, is a real thing. Picking up my life in the UK to start over in the US has come with challenges and many surprises.

I’d forgotten how much bigger everything is in the US, from roads and cars to food and drinks.

Flying Back From UK To US After 4 Years
Food and structures in the US are noticeably bigger than in the UK.

From the moment I hopped in a taxi at JFK Airport and began the drive to Manhattan, I started to notice just how much larger than life things are in the US compared to back home — from the width of the highways and cars to the moment I ordered my first bagel in New York City, which was so big it was basically impossible to take a full bite.

I’ve also noticed that the smallest to-go cups at coffee shops in the US are way bigger than the largest I’d had in the UK, and the portions of meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in America so far have been more than I’m used to.

I’m far from the only one who’s picked up on how portion sizes vary vastly in the US from the UK. Insider’s Food Wars senior video producer Joe Avella previously wrote about being continuously shocked by how much larger fast-food items are in the US than in the UK. At McDonald’s, for example, he discovered that American drinks are 89% bigger than their British counterparts, whether you order a large or small.

I still can’t wrap my head around tipping culture in the US, which is basically nonexistent in the UK.

Having lived in the US previously, I was somewhat familiar with how important it is to tip when you go out to restaurants, which continues to baffle people from different countries where the practice isn’t considered a cultural norm.

That said, knowing where exactly a tip is appropriate and the amount to give has been confusing. When buying a coffee or a drink at a bar in the first week of my relocation to the US, I found myself in an awkward spot deciding whether or not that warrants a tip and, if so, how much to give.

So far, I’ve learned that it can vary, but that the safest best whenever you have doubts is to leave a tip — no matter the situation.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how much warmer customer service at restaurants in the US is compared to service in the UK.

Flying Back From UK To US After 4 Years
Customer service at restaurants in the US is better than in the UK.

Unlike the US, tipping isn’t mandatory in the UK, as most places add a mandatory service charge to a bill, which in my view, might explain why customer service at restaurants is generally quite different.

Since I’m still in the process of setting up my apartment, I’ve done a lot of eating out in NYC. Granted that hasn’t been the best for my budget, but it has made me appreciate how much more effort servers in the US put into giving customers the best dining experience possible. So far, I’ve had instances where dishes have arrived late and have been taken off the bill or where servers have taken time to get to know a bit about me while taking my order. That kind of warmth and charisma is rare to find in the UK, from my experience.

A welcome surprise is how much better frozen-food options are at grocery stores in the US compared to those in the UK.

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