by Jon Langford
It is often said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language, but for expats residing in the U.S., cultural nuances are a daily part of life. I remember the first time I heard a child’s dummy referred to as a pacifier, I expected some sort of medieval torture device to be rolled into the living room.
Now, I’m with the Americans on a lot of things (I think taking the “U” out of color was an inspired move) but some things will forever seem foreign to us Brits. Here is my list of uniquely American peculiarisms:
1. Putting Sugar on Stuff:
Ordering something advertised as an “English breakfast” can be as perilous as a pilgrim’s pilgrimage from Plymouth. It’s no secret that our American friends have a sweet tooth, but do we really need sugar in baked beans? Is brown sugar necessary on bacon? Of course, the irony is the Brits are the ones with the bad teeth.
2. Crowd Participation in Movie Theaters:
Going to the cinema in the land of the free is about as close as you can get to the British pantomime experience. You can boo the baddies, cheer the goodies, and even clap at the end if you want. The only downside is there are no free sweets.
3. Ending Sentences with “Or no?”
“Are we going swing dancing tonight… or no?”
“Is it still the 1920’s… or no?”
“Is the time machine ready yet… or no?”
4. Beginning Sentences with “P.S.”
Aside from the fact it’s more annoying than someone stopping when they get to the top of the subway stairs, it doesn’t make sense to say. P.S. comes from the Latin “post scriptum” meaning “written after.”
This is the stuff of urban legend. I’ve never been ticketed or met anyone who has and I enjoy a good jaywalk several times a day, every day of the week. Sometimes I do it in front of a police car, just for the hell of it.
6. The Silent ‘H’ on “Herb.”
As far as I’m concerned, “vitamins” and “tomatoes” are fair game. All the letters are being acknowledged, they’re just being pronounced differently. But if you’re going to pronounce it “erb” then why isn’t the same logic being applied to every word beginning “Her…?”
“‘Er ‘erd of ‘ermits and ‘errings had ‘ereditary ‘erpes,” said the cheeky American cockney when asked to explain why his sister’s bizarre collection of animals had died.
7. The “Have a Nice Day” Send-Off:
I’m with the Americans on this. I’d rather be on the receiving end of an insincere “Have a nice day!” than the miserable grumble favored by most shopkeepers in the U.K.
Picture the scene: A great American novelist is dictating copy to his English intern, “The woman was suffering. Pain again!” he says, dramatically. But the American usage of “period” instead of “full-stop” sabotaged the sentence. What the intern wrote was, “The woman was suffering period pain again!”
9. Federal Holidays:
“What are we celebrating this time? Labor day? What on earth is that? Actually, I don’t care. Can I have another beer?” There seems to be a federal holiday every month and expats are never shy in joining in the festivities. We may stubbornly refuse to refer to football as soccer, but we’re more than willing to have a drink and whoop over the fireworks on July 4, even though we’re toasting the demise of the British Empire.
10. Confusion Over the Following Terms: British, English, Scottish, Welsh, and ‘From the U.K’.
“So, the U.K. is in London?” an American from Ohio once asked me. I suppose it’s like cricket, if you didn’t grow up with it, it can be rather confusing.
Jon Langford is the bass player for British rock band The Chevin, currently based in NYC.The band has toured Europe supporting Franz Ferdinand, White Lies, The Airborne Toxic Event and The Pigeon Detectives. They made their US television debut performing their single “Champion” on the Late Show with David Letterman on 29 August 2012.