What I am looking for is (if possible) first-hand accounts of coming from Small Town America to London (UK) for the first time. Not the obvious stuff (drive on the ‘wrong side’, no grid-iron road systems, much older buildings etc.) but the smaller stuff that you never expect. An example; a friend came to visit me in London from Germany. She found the sound of our sirens ‘weirdly jolly’. That kind of stuff.
Search terms used: all variations of 'uk vs usa travel differences' that I can think of, which either throws up what I could guess or already know, or various agencies helping you plan your visit to either country. Neither of which are what I'm looking for, really.
Specifics: My character is twenty-three, living in a Virginia college town, originally from Des Moines and pretty poor (sort of trailer trash). Going to London is the first time he’s been abroad.
The Virginia college town is made up. For reasons now forgotten, it takes up the space of Wytheville, VA. I don’t really know what college towns in the US are like, so I’ve gone for something somewhere between Oxford (UK) and what Harvard looks like on TV. I imagine it flat (as in, buildings not higher than say five storeys), sprawling (as in, the town itself is spread in such a way that there’s not many places where you’ll suddenly bump into enormous groups of people/students, and with wide streets) and sort of sleepy once you’re away from the main campus. If this isn’t want US college towns are like, you can tell me, sure, but it’s too late to change that, story-wise. The only impressions I have of Des Moines comes from Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid which is mostly set in the 50s so I have no real idea of what it’s like either.
Des Moines isn’t all that important to the story, but gives my character context for this at least, and Des Moines and the Virginia college town are the only places he’s ever lived. Other places he’s visited are the other towns surrounding the college town (all of which are of a similar ilk, minus the prestigious university), Detroit (once a year to visit his brother in prison – so three times) and Washington DC (maybe also about three times).
In London, he’s going to live in south London (Old Kent Road), work in a south London hospital (St Thomas’, Lambeth) but he’s also going to do a lot of the touristy stuff, most of which is in central London.
So! What would he be unprepared for? I know there are a lot of things that are ‘expected’ when visiting the UK – different plugs, money, aforementioned driving on the left etc. – and I know some things you’re ‘forewarned’ for by watching British TV shows, but what would be odd because you didn’t think of it? What would be noticeable to someone who’s only lived in Des Moines (and not the nice bits) and small Virginia college towns?