Moving to London entails a lot of adjustments, among which is getting used to differences between American and British English as well as simply telling the time!

Use of Military Time in the UK

One key difference you’ll detect on digital clocks in the UK is that they are often in military time—that is, they go up to 24:00, thereby eliminating a need to specify a.m. versus p.m. You’ll notice if your clock goes to 24 at midnight, it’ll switch to 00 when the next day technically begins. It’s only a matter of simple arithmetic to determine what time it is once the clock “ticks” past noon: simply subtract the number twelve and tack on the “p.m.” Regardless, it can still be disorienting when you’re first getting used to it; I remember making mistakes like interpreting 17:00, for example, as 7:00 p.m. rather than 5:00 p.m. at a rapid glance.

British English versus American English

Beyond that, you will also encounter the following linguistic differences:

half-past – For example, if it’s 3:30, the English are likely to say it’s “half-past three” rather than “three thirty.”
past = after. So, in addition to “half past,” any number of minutes past the hour will be phrased that same way—i.e., 6:25 is “twenty-five past six” as opposed to “twenty-five after six.”
to = till / before. Basically, the same as the above except for in terms of minutes before the hour. So, to give an example, 6:50 would be phrased “ten to seven” rather than “ten till seven” or “ten minutes before seven.”
midday = noon.

The British also have particular nicknames to designate their special times of day that center on tea and snacks:

elevenses – Nicknamed after eleven o’clock, this is the approximate time of day when it’s traditional to have a light, late-morning snack. It commonly includes tea and biscuits.
tea time/afternoon tea / low tea – Anywhere between 3:00-5:00 pm (or should I say, 15:00-17:00) is the traditional English time for sitting to tea as a snack between lunch and dinner. It can be quite elaborate and stomach-filling when done elegantly at hotels, nice restaurants/cafés, and society functions, including an array of finger sandwiches, scones, and other pastries, but in an everyday context, it can be casually observed with biscuits and sandwiches, very similar to a later-day elevenses if not a bit more substantial.

Where Time Begins

Indeed, London is where time starts, laying as it does on the Prime Meridian—see my related “London Locations” post on Greenwich and its Royal Observatory and Maritime Museum, which make for a fascinating visit—the sea clocks are my favorite part. As of now, UK time is five hours ahead of the North American Eastern Standard Time, six hours ahead of Central, seven ahead of Mountain, and eight ahead of Pacific. (So keep that in mind if you’re calling London Relocation from the U.S. or Canada—we’re running five to eight hours later than you, but will respond to calls through midnight our time within a half hour! Anything later will be addressed within the next day.)

Interestingly enough, however, the next week may bring proposals for switching the UK’s time zone from GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) to CET (Central European Time), which is GMT+1 hour! The intention, it seems, is to lengthen daylight in the evening, which all of us who have lived through the depressing dark winter UK afternoons can surely delight in, though it will make mornings darker. (see the BBC article, “Plan to Bring UK Clocks Forward“)

Just a few pointers to help keep you in step and on time after your London move; and, remember, the staff at London Relocation is on the clock and awaiting your contact if we can help you rent your new London apartment in a “timely” manner!

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