As I write this column, I have my Union Jack cushion behind my back, a cup of tea on my desk and a packet of bourbon biscuits open next to me. My desktop wallpaper is set to a watercolour picture of the London skyline.
Now I imagine that I’ve already said some things that confuse you. I hear you ask, “What are biscuits?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t you mean cookies?” In response, I will kindly direct you to the handy dictionary I have included at the end of this column.
The answer is no, no I don’t mean cookies, I most definitely mean biscuits. And no that wasn’t a typo, I meant to spell “colour” and not “color,” although from now on I’ll admit that I should write using American English given that I’m in America.
If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m not from around here. In fact, I’m from London, just 3628 miles away (or for me 5839 km).
In many ways, I am a pretty stereotypical British girl (although I would like to point out that not every person from the U.K. is from London). I have a typical “British accent”; I like tea; I love the rain; I talk about the weather far too much; I deeply miss public transport; I’ve never driven a car; I’m extremely sarcastic; and I’m best friends with the Queen.
As a result of my Britishness, there are many things that just really confuse me about America. From Fahrenheit and the Imperial system to the fact that there are gaps in the doors of public bathrooms (or restrooms!), from the fact that you can legally buy a gun at 18 but you can’t drink until you’re 21, to tipping in general — this country is a bit of an enigma to me.
In this column, I want to talk about some of the things that confuse me, the ways in which the U.S. and the U.K. differ and some things which are just plain weird to people who aren’t from the U.S., which you may never have realized before. (The fact that I just typed “realized” instead of realised is extremely bizarre for me, by the way).
Hopefully I’ll be able to share some things with you about British culture that I miss and a few of the things I think should exist on this side of the pond.
For example: Why are Sunday roasts not a thing here? (I can’t tell you how excited I am for my first Thanksgiving, purely for a good roast.) Why don’t kettles exist here? Why does Netflix only have the first four seasons of The Great British Bake Off and not the new season, and why does it exist under the butchered title The Great British Baking Show? These are just a few of the many questions I have right now…
Now one of the biggest surprises whilst I’ve been here is the number of British words and phrases that differ or just don’t exist here. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”
While I think that I’m probably the only person that really cares about the grammatical differences between British and American English, I think that it would be useful for both Brits and Americans to have a bit more of an understanding of what the other is saying. So I have included a very, very brief dictionary for some of the words that have caused me problems so far.
I know that you might think there can’t really be that many crucial differences, because they’re both English, and I have to admit that I’m inclined to agree with you — most of the time it’s not really that big a deal.
A lot of the time, I will just use Americanism to avoid confusing my friends, much to the dismay of my family and friends back home, one of whom decided to insult me by joking that I’ve acquired an American twang.
However, there are some things I simply cannot and will not accept, no matter how long I live here.
The difference between chips, crisps and fries for starters and the whole issue of football/soccer/American football… which is an issue for another time, I think.
Below is by no means a full or comprehensive list of all the words I think you should know, but it’s brief list to get you started on the road to understanding the British people in your life a bit better or even just to help you appreciate Downton Abbey a bit more: