As an international student, getting culturally shocked seems to be a rite of passage when you study abroad. Over the past few months, I have learned the many customs and values that Mancunians carry, and this piece is to share exactly that. This way, you won’t be caught off guard when it is your turn to set foot in this city of worker bees.
#1 “Are you alright”?
When I first stepped into a store in Manchester, I was greeted with “Are you alright?” which instantly flung a confusion bomb my way. Of course, I was alright; why wouldn’t I be?
As time goes on, you realise that the three-word phrase is used merely as a greeting in the UK. It is less of a question and more of a simple acknowledgement. If you are dumbfounded about how to respond, “Hello” will do the trick; if you are feeling extra giddy, throw in a follow up to ask how the person is—you just might make their day.
#2 Straight from the tap, please
I come from Malaysia, a country whose tap water has to be filtered and boiled thoroughly before drinking, lest you contract any unwanted medical complications. So, imagine my jaw dragging the floor when I saw my flatmate drink straight from the tap on my first day of moving in.
As I have come to learn, tap water in the UK is considered safe and pure for daily consumption and cooking. However, keep in mind that hot tap water may still contain contaminants, so it’s a good rule of thumb to use only cold water if it is going in your body.
#3 Sorry, we’re closed
Back home, if my family decides to go out shopping after dinner around eight, we would hop in the car and drive straight to the mall, singing aloud in the car, knowing that the shops would still be open when we arrive. Or, if we are hungry for a late-night bite, we know that the local eateries and hawker stalls would still welcome us with open arms. Here, in Manchester, the same cannot be said.
Shops tend to close around 8 PM, sometimes as early as 6 PM during bank holidays. This means that streets empty relatively early in the night, which some of us might not be used to. Fret not, however, as the city understands the need for a night out and restaurants, bars and entertainment venues have a much later closing hour!
#4 Public transport everywhere
Manchester is a highly walkable city. I am fortunate enough to live in a location where the campus and city centre are within reasonable walking distances. For those who tend to live farther, fret not, for public transportation is ubiquitous in this city, making it convenient to get around when you learn how to take the tram, bus, or even rental bicycles.
Before I got to the UK, I drove around my hometown much like everybody else. Cars would fill up both sides of the road, only the occasional bus in sight. While I have come to miss roaming freely in my car, I have also come to appreciate commuting via public transportation. With the tap of your card, you can be transported to your destination within minutes—now that is magical.
#5 Free healthcare all-around
One of the things I did not expect to be true in the UK is the free healthcare service available to all its citizens. As an international student, I was asked to pay an immigration health surcharge while applying for my visa, which means I am entitled to the same access a UK citizen has with the successful approval of my visa.
The National Health Service (NHS) is funded through payroll taxes, resulting in hospital visits, ambulance rides, and even surgeries that are free of charge—a sight that is nowhere to be found in Malaysia.
What are some cultural shocks or general surprises you have encountered in Manchester? Let us know!
Now, take a look at my other Buzzing in advice pieces to help you as you start University: