Accents and a large ocean aren’t the only things that separate Americans and Brits. Don’t scoff and turn the page just yet. The English look like Americans, walk like Americans and, as long as no words are exchanged, could pass pretty well as Americans.

But they aren’t.

My politics professor here often laments what appears to be a common political problem: low electoral turnout. But here in the U.K., a “low turnout” is the 65 percent of the electorate who came to the polls last month to pick the new British government. That’s about 10 percent higher than the U.S. average. Barely a majority of the country that styles itself the leader of the free world turns out for elections, while almost two thirds of British citizens cast a ballot.

And they know what they’re talking about too. When we arrived, we were counseled not to start political discussions in pubs. Essentially, the message was that we would “get our asses handed to us.” I made a mental note not to bring it up, but it’s been impossible to ignore the subject in such a politically engaged city. Even the immigration officer at the airport asked me what I thought of the recent election and jokingly apologized for my new position as an intern in parliament. Another random group of people at a pub struck up a conversation about Nick Clegg and the future of the new coalition. Random people on the street here know more about politics than some political science majors in the U.S.

Maybe it’s because England clearly has a “help yourself” culture. Not that this is a hands-off state by any means, but people here don’t expect others to do things for them. There’s no bag boy at the grocery store, which introduces the conundrum of pay-then-bag or bag-then-pay. Unfortunately, this also extends to the pubs, where it is nearly impossible to get served unless you lunge across the bar.

But these experiences made me realize how many things are done for you in the U.S. – in other words, I never knew how spoiled I was. Not that having to bag your own groceries is a huge sacrifice, but it reveals a broader cultural nuance.

But you shouldn’t get the impression that people here aren’t willing to help. Random strangers are happy to help with anything from holding the door to finding something in a store. People smile all the time. A girl hugged me after I gave her two pounds for the bus. My mom taught me to act like this, but it’s not prevalent behavior in the States.

Of course, there’s tradeoffs in every new culture. Unlike in Ann Arbor, drivers in London are playing a constant game of Frogger. Nice, happy people turn into psychopaths behind the wheel. Don’t even think about inching one toe off the sidewalk for fear of death. Every day, my life flashes before my eyes at least four times.

Though the cars move fast, the people don’t. With all the help-yourself attitudes and smiling going on, things move a little slower here. People walk slower, lines move slower and clerks seem to take an hour to ring up two items. Even worse, the internet is slower than a worm.

In my two weeks here, I’ve learned a lot about the Brits. But more important, I’ve learned about myself and the culture I live in. I’m glad I’ve had these weeks before starting my internship to get reacquainted with myself. Every time I set foot outside, I see something new and it makes me really contemplate the world I live in. I never thought of America as a particularly fast-passed or dependent society, but stepping outside its borders has really opened my eyes.

But I’ve realized that neither system is really better. Sure, I would like people to move faster, but I like living in a city where people smile at me. Plus, I’m finally learning to look both ways before I cross the street. Even though I had to move to city without a proper grocery store first.

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