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I’m a Brit who visited Los Angeles for the first time. I found myself in complete culture shock.


Car in La next to image of Alice Johnston kissing grocery bagI visited the US for the first time in my 20s.

Alice Johnston

  • I grew up in the UK and had never been to the US before I visited LA when I was 26.
  • Even when I consumed American content, like “Sex and the City,” I was shocked by the differences.
  • The weather is amazing nearly every day, and people are seemingly more positive. 
There is so much more space in LA.Car driving in Los Angeles through palm treesThe roads are bigger, and the houses are more spacious.

Alice Johnston

One of the first things I noticed when driving to the city from the airport was how it feels like LA has way more space than London. I was especially surprised since London technically has more square miles than LA

I felt like I could actually take up space in LA, which is the opposite of cramming myself into the tiniest possible corner of the Central line — London’s underground rail — for a morning commute.

In the UK, it can be hard to forget that you’re living on a small island with millions of people. Here, I could see beaches and skies and roads for miles. 

Plus, almost every house I passed here seemed to have its own garden and tons of space inside. Someone in LA told me they never even realized expensive homes sometimes share walls with neighbors, which blew my mind.

The portions of food are bigger, too.Photo 3From pancakes to freeways, everything is bigger.

Alice Johnston

The cars are larger here, and the portions of food are truly expansive.

I was blown away by the big plates and meals I was served throughout my trip. 

LA lacks good public transportation.Photo 4There’s a lot of traffic in LA.

Alice Johnston

Aside from a few metro lines and buses, there’s not much public transport in LA.

This clearly isn’t the case for all of the US, but the car is king here in a way it isn’t at home.

Although this brings its own problems of pollution and snarled roads, it’s pretty nice to commute to work without smelling a stranger’s armpit.

There’s seemingly a more relaxed pace of life.Photo 5I got a last-minute invitation to a great breakfast spot.

Alice Johnston

This sense of space and privacy perhaps explains why people seem more laid-back here than they are in the UK.

Last-minute plans are no big deal in LA, but in London, I feel like I have to ask to see my friends weeks in advance, like buying a theater ticket. 

The people seem happier.Photo 6There are sunny dispositions all around.

Alice Johnston

Seemingly people in LA don’t cynically complain all of the time, which is weird to me.

As a Brit, it seems insincere when the person taking your lunch order smiles and wishes you a nice day. I’m sure that sometimes it is, but they often really do seem to mean it.

This positive reinforcement to my day was genuinely pleasant.

People seem more open to having conversations with strangers.Photo 7People in LA seem to be more open and friendly.

Alice Johnston

Strangers and acquaintances are more open to chatting, so it’s easier to make new friends and connections.

This is a nice change from London, where strangers look at you as if you’ve grown a second head when you randomly greet them.

The weather really is as great as people say.Photo 8Good weather makes everything a little bit better.

Alice Johnston

In London, I’d often wake up to gray and gloomy clouds, go to lunch while it’s drizzling, and stare at the dark sky by 4 p.m. My soul would feel like it’s dying.

That experience is practically nonexistent in LA, and the good weather makes everything less of a struggle.

But in the off chance of rain, plans are canceled, traffic grows monstrous, and news anchors report on a mild amount of precipitation like it’s a tornado. 

The days seem to start earlier in LA.Photo 10It was nice to get an early start.

Alice Johnston

The energy of the city skews toward the first half of the day, with most of the latest bars closing at a very polite 2 a.m.

But if you want to grab breakfast at 6 a.m., there are plenty of spots open.

Activities and amenities are geared toward convenience.Photo 11Drive-thru pharmacies are quite common.

Alice Johnston

In London, many shops close early, but in this part of the US, grocery stores are often open all day and offer two-hour delivery.

And, if you don’t have time to wait for a prescription, you can go to a drive-thru pharmacy.

It’s usually easy to customize your order at restaurants.Photo 12I’ve had a lot of my customization requests accepted.

Alice Johnston

I’ve found that if I ever want my meal with extra sauce or without a certain ingredient, most servers will not bat an eye, even at the fanciest restaurants.

You’ll be accommodated if you’re cutting out alcohol, trying a gluten-free diet, or following Whole30.

In London, this request will often earn you a dirty look and mutterings from the staff.

The food scene is pretty diverse and interesting.Photo 13There’s nothing quite like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Alice Johnston

At restaurants, the produce is impressive, with some unique fruits and vegetables.

Try jicama, which looks like a potato but is eaten raw as a crispy, refreshing snack and tastes like something between an apple and a water chestnut.

Also, there are all kinds of snack foods to grab that I haven’t seen back in London. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. 

Tipping is a common practice in the US.Photo 14Make sure to tip when you go out for food or drinks.

Alice Johnston

Be prepared to ask what the accepted tipping rate is.

While out at a bar, I genuinely forgot about the custom and signed my bill without adding a tip. The bartender rightly pushed the receipt back toward me with a raised eyebrow. 

Weed is seemingly much more common.Photo 15.Weed is legal in California.

Alice Johnston

People appear to generally drink less in LA than they do in Britain, but more seemingly smoke weed or take CBD oil. After all, cannabis is legal in California but not in the UK. 

Here, I also quickly learned the difference between indica and sativa. And an 80-year-old gave me a great recommendation for a cannabis ointment to help sore muscles.

Overall, I loved how different it all felt.Photo 17In-N-Out is a popular fast-food restaurant.

Alice Johnston

The TV shows and songs I loved growing up featured American accents, and after a lifetime of consuming all of that content, I naively thought I wouldn’t feel such a culture shock. 

As expected, there were palm trees everywhere, but I was still surprised by how much different LA felt compared to the UK. Even though both places primarily speak English, Los Angeles seemed foreign to me. 

From the warm night air to the amazing neon signs everywhere, it was beautifully obvious that I was in a very different part of the world — and I loved it.

This story was originally published on January 30, 2020, and most recently updated on June 11, 2024.

Read the original article on Business Insider