Take a recent visit to my local pharmacy for example. After going through the process of working out what the brand names of the medicines I was seeking were (even the everyday antihistamines and painkillers didn't have the same brand-names as we have in Australia) and being put in my place for asking for a medication that is no longer used in the UK, I then had what I thought was a bizarre interaction with the pharmacist when I came to pay. I did my usual fumbling with my money - peering at the 1 pound coin to check it wasn't a 2 pound coin and getting confused between the 50 and 20 pence coins. Then, when I handed a 10 pound note over to the pharmacist, she held it up to the light at least three times, looking at me suspiciously in between. I'm assuming it was to check that it wasn't counterfeit. At this stage, I had been in the country less than a week. At home in Australia, I would have assumed this was odd behaviour and that perhaps there had been a recent spate of conterfeiting or she had a particularly careful personality. Here, I had no way of interpreting this behaviour. Were all British shopkeepers like this? Are Australians viewed with suspicion because of our convict past? Would this happen to me every time I tried to use paper money, or was it a one-off? In the end, it didn't really matter that much and I left the shop feeling a little humiliated and wondering if there was another pharmacy I could go to next time.
Today, I had another situation arise which I found hard to interpret. The kids have made a friend on our street who they've played with a couple of times. She knocked on the door with her mum and asked whether they would like to come and play. We arranged for them to come back after they had been to the shops at a certain time. The time we'd agreed upon came and went. I assumed at first that maybe they were late - that happens all the time when we arrange play dates back home. But then I started wondering if I'd missed a social cue somewhere. Do play dates happen differently here and I didn't understand what she'd said? I tried to remember whether English were known for being punctual or particularly casual about times. Should I go to their house after all and knock on the door, or would that be interpreted as being rude? In the end, I figured it was more rude if we were meant to go there and hadn't gone, so in case I had misheard we went and knocked on their door a couple of times. As it happens, they were out and had just been delayed.
I suspect in both these situations, it was probably mostly about the individuals involved - the quirks of personalities and circumstances, and a bit too much worrying on my part. Eventually I'm sure I'll feel more confident to pinpoint which things are custom, which things are circumstance, and which things are just a result of the fact that we're all different!
I've also put a reserve on this book at the local library, so I can speed up that process a little!