Debunking the myth: London isn’t the NYC of Europe

Despite the surface-level similarities the United Kingdom may share with the United States, NYU London students still experience culture shock.


Despite sharing the same language and many aspects of culture, London and New York City are by no means similar. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Shreyas Inamdar, Staff Writer

I am one of the many NYU students who picked London as my study away destination because I thought it would be a similar experience to my life in the United States since it is an  English-speaking country. Two weeks in, and I’ve been hit with a culture shock tsunami. This is partially my own fault because I went into this experience thinking everything would feel normal, especially considering that I’d visited London before. However, a weekend trip is very different from actually living in a foreign country and taking the time to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Here are four ways that studying away in London has hit me like a truck.

Illustration of light gray clouds on a light blue background.
(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)


I would describe London’s climate as predictable, which contrasts with New York City’s on-and-off, inconsistent climate. In London, the high temperature for the next two weeks will fluctuate only by about six degrees Fahrenheit, so you mostly know what to expect when heading out for class. 

And you also know it’s probably going to be cloudy. I came to London expecting a lot of cloudy days, so that wasn’t new; however, what I didn’t fully process until I got here was that cloud cover affected the nation’s mood. If you’re hoping for a sunny day, you’re out of luck. There’s a chance you’ll have to wait a week before ever seeing the sun again. Essentially, every September day in London has been about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy. If you have seasonal depression, you have to brace yourself before coming to London. 

Illustration of fish and chips on a white plate with a light yellow background.
(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)


British food is very different from what I’ve been used to. There are plenty of U.S. staples in London, such as Five Guys, McDonald’s and KFC, but the minute differences in taste make you feel a little further away from home. British food culture is explained by writer Alison McCrea as a byproduct of the blandness of British society, where love and passion are lacking. 

The drinking culture also plays a part in British food being somewhat flavorless, since you are expected to get happiness out of alcohol rather than food. There also seems to be a distinct posh culture in the United Kingdom, which makes it rare to find hearty meals that feel like they have been cooked with love.

While there is plenty of traditional British cuisine served all over London, there doesn’t seem to be a feeling of pride in the local food and restaurants. In New York City, you can find classic establishments, such as John’s of Bleecker Street and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, which have both been serving iconic meals for a century. In London, restaurants that serve British food are typically indistinguishable.

I was able to connect with Michelle Olofsson, a third-year student at Imperial College in London who went to my high school in the United States. She offered a perspective on London culture that she had cultivated after two years of living here. 

“People are quite cold in London,” Olofsson said. “There’s a lack of host culture in the U.K. — people are not giving. They don’t really offer things, it’s a very individualistic society.”

Illustration of a reddish, long-haired dachshund on a light green background.
(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Life in the city

In stark contrast with New York’s concrete jungle, Stern sophomore Jacob Zhang describes London as a “posh brick forest.” Large green spaces and historic, Victorian-style buildings are abundant in London. Unlike in New York City, you might have to walk two minutes before you find a trash can, and there are very few street performers. And in London parks, dogs are mostly unleashed and non-confrontational, unlike the strict on-leash policy of most New York City parks.

Shops and street activity also shut down earlier in London, which gives Stern sophomore Ethan Hong a sense of discomfort. Hong says that London is “a little too quiet” for him. He adds that the post-club midnight snack is one of his favorite activities in New York, whereas it is much harder to find similar spots in London.

Illustration of plain black leather boots with a small heel on a light red background.
(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)


I’ve always been a bit showy when it comes to what I choose to wear, but still, the fashion sense in the United Kingdom seems much more put-together. I feel weird wearing a basketball jersey on the streets or really anything with a loud, brand-filled design. You’ll often find Londoners wearing more delicate and simple outfits, whereas New Yorkers proudly wear the logos of their favorite clothing brands. American culture seems more expressive and invested in consumer marketing than British culture, and that difference makes itself clear through fashion. While this is a smaller factor compared to the other differences, you do feel a little less at home when people aren’t matching your vibe. 

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The differences between the United Kingdom and the United States manifest themselves in unexpected ways, and it adds to the challenge of acclimating to a new environment. However, Hong is confident he will start to feel more comfortable in London.

“I still don’t feel at home because I haven’t explored enough to get a better understanding of the city itself,” Hong said. “As the semester goes on, I will begin to find that understanding.” 

While there are many differences, there is a similarity in pace between the two cities. While New York City does have a relatively faster pace than London, Zhang expressed his surprise at how comfortable and familiar he feels in London compared to Madrid and Florence, where he felt he would need time to adjust to a slower-paced lifestyle.

The differences and discomforts in cultural exchange are part of what makes studying away so rewarding. In her two years at Imperial College so far, Olofsson feels that she has absorbed the best parts of British culture.

“I think it’s really valuable to be able to observe the culture and kind of pick and choose the positive parts of the culture to adopt into your own life without taking away the negative parts,” Olofsson said. “It also makes you reevaluate the negative parts of your own culture.” 

NYU London students are learning firsthand about an entirely different culture, and the lack of a language barrier makes that a lot easier. But sometimes, it seems like the English language is just about the only similarity between London and New York.