How to Explain Britishness to an American

 No PDA please. (Barbarism.com)

Ever think that your personality quirks merit extra explanation stateside? Use our handy guide to help U.S. folk understand how coming from the U.K. has shaped who you are.

1. What Brits want to talk about
When we chat to strangers at bus stops, it’s likely that the weather will get top billing, but not because we’re particularly enamored by meteorological happens. It’s just easy to roll out a stock conversation we’ve rehearsed all our lives. In fairness, Americans talk about the weather too, but theirs does tend to be more varied and compelling than drizzle and light misting. With friends, meanwhile, topics range from TV, dogs and football to that-toff-Cameron and which high-profile person died recently.  We seek intimacy by trying to make our co-conversers laugh rather than share emotionally (see below). 

2. What Brits don’t want to talk about
Our “feelings” are not up for discussion, unless we’re confiding in someone we inherently trust, like the family Labrador.  Money is also a danger zone. Only known eccentrics reveal how much they make or what they have in the bank. You might, however, allude to your riches by boasting about exotic holidays or nod at your impoverishment by “forgetting” to buy a round.

3. What Brits laugh at
We like our funnies dry and dark or silly and strange. What might seem unsettling to Americans is nectar to us. We love to see people fail, whether it’s falling on their face or crumbling emotionally. Most Britcom-literate Americans know this already – and might feel similarly disposed – but if you want to educate a novice, point them at Steptoe and Son, Fawlty Towers, Father Ted, Black Adder, League of Gentlemen, Peep Show and This is Jinsy

4. What Brits like to eat
There’s been a gastronomic explosion in Britain, so the notion that we still oscillate between dinners of meat and potatoes and takeaway chicken tikka masala is a misnomer. Of course, some stick rigidly to this bland food template, but they’re largely older folks. While our OAPs prefer their vegetables boiled to the point that they fall apart on your lips, young Brits own Jamie Oliver cookbooks, watch Masterchef and know their way around a bouquet garni.

5. What Brits don’t like to eat
We can be fussy and we hate to share. Explain to baffled Americans that when British people eat curry or Chinese (perhaps adding that we would never insert the word “food” here) – cuisines that suit what Yanks call family style – we tend to order our own meal instead of deciding on a batch of dishes to split. We’re also not as adept as Americans at mixing sweet and salty foods on the same plate. From an early age, we’re taught that only if we eat up all of our (savory) main course will we be allowed dessert. Which is sugar-packed, unless you’re that weirdo who decides to order the cheese.

6. Brits love an underdog
We consider ambitious, confident overachievers to be loathsome creatures who need knocking down to size. I think this is one of the few Britishisms that Americans, who openly covet and laud success, find genuinely baffling. We do quite like back-of-the-pack, A-for-effort types, so long as they greet their eventual success with humbleness so extreme it borders on self-flagellation.

7. Why Brits might seem cold and uptight
American style sincerity creeps us out. Gushing is acceptable behavior in waterfalls, not humans. Even our speeches at weddings and funerals are about affectionate humiliation, not swooping, saccharine declarations. We find this kind of conduct, and premature displays of openness, disingenuous and untrustworthy. Understandably, some Americans view our unquenchable desire to mercilessly mock those we love as unkind and call our resistance to public displays of earnestness inhibited.

8. Why all bets are off when we’re drunk
Disregard any of the above if the Brit in question has consumed more lager than they have blood, which for most of us is once or twice a week starting from mid-adolescence. Booze allows us to loosen our laces and, temporarily, become huggers who want to tell their friends how much they love them. Of course, there’s a tacit understanding that this kind of nauseating carry-on will be airbrushed from history as soon sobriety arrives.

Does this describe you?

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

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