North and south

When I moved to university, as well as leaving home I crossed a cultural divide in the process.  No, I didn’t go to Mars or move to a different country: I moved up north.

You’ve probably heard of the north/south divide. It’s a subject hotly debated by northerners and southerners alike: whose people are friendlier, which is the better place to live, who pronounces their a’s and u’s the right way. University, a place where people from across the UK converge, is a breeding ground for such discussions. Most of these comparisons are entirely light-hearted, used to rib northern or southern friends.  I’ve often been a victim. Friends from university frequently mock my ‘southern’ accent – bath is pronounced with a long a, like baaaaaah-th, ok?

While you might hear comparisons between the north and the south, there are a multitude of local, regional and national identities and reducing England into two categories is obviously a little simplistic. Nevertheless, from my experience of moving from London to Sheffield, I’ve become aware of some small but noticeable differences. Maybe it’s because I grew up in London; moving from a huge, teeming city to a smaller, but still substantial one – Sheffield is supposedly the 5th largest city in the UK – is bound to be different.

So, I thought I’d compile a short list of the things I found different or intriguing about Sheffield when I moved up here. Having grown up in London, my observations of Sheffield are bound to be tinctured by my prior experiences. So here is a list of a Londoner’s impressions of Sheffield.

A caveat: these observations are purely my own. And probably only useful for learning about my personal (and slightly random) impressions.

1). People say thank you to the bus driver

Apparently this sometimes happens down south– but not in my experience. In London, you tap your oyster card, you sit down, and when you’re ready to get off the bus, you leave by a separate entrance to the one you came on by. There’s no interaction there. When I first came to Sheffield, I watched in awe as people thanked the bus driver. It’s nice – it acknowledges the driver is a human being, rather than an automaton. It’s a small act that nevertheless gives rise to a sense of community.

2). People queue to get on the bus

Not something I see much in London. Where I’m from, it’s a free-for-all. Think of the crowd waiting to get on the bus as a semi-circle rather than a line.

3). The accents

An obvious one. Despite an alarming inability to distinguish between what I perceive to be a generalised ‘northern’ accent, there are obvious indicators of a Sheffield dialect all around – you’ll probably hear sayings like ‘gi ore’ and ‘reyt good’. And local endearments, too – if you’re female, you’ll probably get called ‘flower’, ‘love’ and ‘duck’.

4). There’s an air of friendliness

Of course, this is a generalisation. There are friendly and miserable people everywhere. But I genuinely think that in Sheffield – and perhaps generally in the north – there’s a culture of friendliness that London just doesn’t have.  Perhaps it’s to do with Sheffield’s working class roots; perhaps it’s to do with having a smaller population.

5). Closing times

Perhaps I’ve enjoyed a charmed life: even in inner city London, far away from Oxford St, shops are open til 7pm. In Sheffield, most shops shut down at 5:30. And don’t get me started on Sunday’s opening times.

6.) Meadowhall

In the past couple of years, I’ve come back to Sheffield by coach. And when I’ve nearly arrived, I’ll see the garish dome of Meadowhall shopping centre emerging from the skyline like some peculiar mirage.The variety of shops in Sheffield town centre can seem a bit thin on the ground – so Meadowhall, located around three miles away, is a kind of landmark; it has around 280 stores to satisfy your every need. Shopping centres don’t really differ whether you’re in the north or the south. I still get lost in them, every single time.

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