New Year’s Resolutions for Brits in America

Ahhh … (Photo via HKI)

New Years is a grand time for Brits in the U.S  to take stock of how they’re doing as expats, and perhaps to make a few little changes. Here’s a few suggestions:

1.  I will stop smacking my kids across the back of the head (metaphorically speaking) for using American words like “chips” instead of crisps, “sneakers” instead of trainers/plimsolls, and “principal” instead of head master. I brought them to this foreign land and I should be thrilled that they are embracing the language and acclimating so well.

2.  Furthermore, when they have friends over for a playdate, I will not insist on British manners, even though it’s my house.  My children’s friends are Americans, and saying “he” or “she” in front of that person is not a crime against humanity in the U.S. Replying “Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” is meaningless to them anyway. I will insist on a “please” now and then though.

3. In the interest of heritage, I will continue to spend a small fortune on imported Marmite, Jammy Dodgers, Ambrosia Creamed Rice and Dettol. (They have to have childhood memories of the smell of Dettol, no matter how bad.)

4. However skanky my hair may be, I pledge to resist the ponytail and baseball cap. Yes, most of my friends do this on a regular basis, and that’s because, if you have an American head, it looks OK. On British heads, for some reason, it’s just wrong. And I feel ridiculous.

5. When people in the street say “Hi, how are you?” I will refrain from stopping and giving them a run down of last month’s physical ailments and children’s grades. It’s more like a greeting in this country and simply requires a “Great thanks, how are you?”

6. When entertaining at home, I will allow my guests to bring a dish. No more of this British insistence on doing it all myself and replying “Oh just yourselves” to the question “What Can I Bring?” They will turn up with something anyway and it probably won’t go with the meal, so might as well throw out a few appropriate suggestions.

7. I will refrain from doing my terrible American accent, but I feel it only fair to insist on a reciprocal ban on Americans-doing-British-accents.

8. Ironing will remain a religious observance in this house, no matter how much friends and family tease me. I will not wear clothes that look like old handkerchiefs, nor will I subject my guests to creased pillowcases. My house, my rules. End of.

9. Similarly, baths will remain a perfectly acceptable form of cleansing both mind and body. I am not a coal miner and I am not “sitting in my own dirt.”

10. I will personify the expat adage – “Not wrong, just different.”

Happy New Year to one and all!


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • gn

    You’re already going native linguistically with “acclimating”, so you should have no right to criticize others!

  • whofreak

    Hmmm…if I believe this, it means my folks must be geographically confused. Born and raised in the US, but taught British manners, apparently. Maybe that’s why someone once said about me, “She’s not just a woman she’s a lady. “

  • Cyndi Poole

    Hear hear! Ruth Margolis could learn a thing or two from you. Happy New Year!
    P.S. Growing up, my parents always made us take baths in a tub. Now it’s a luxury that I take advantage of every chance I get! Nothing like a warm bubble bath to cleanse the body and mind!

  • Iota

    I like that adage!

  • Annie


  • Craig

    Except you are sitting in your own dirt, just saying. Baths are good for relaxing at night after work, but having one the night before to avoid a morning shower is nasty and definitely doesn’t make you feel fresh.

  • Erik

    Okay, I wont do a British accent. Does that mean just the BBC accent, or all regional varieties as well? Can I still do a poorly enacted Australian, South African, or Cambridge-educated Indian accent? Please? I won’t object to you doing Texas or Mississippi accents.

  • Jasmine Baggenstos

    Good golly, this makes Americans sound like mannerless heathens.
    Every country has different words and meanings for things and it’s okay. I’m not going to visit (or live in) another country and berate them for the “wrong” use of a word.
    Also, baths are kind of gross as a cleaning method. I never really believed my mom when I was younger, but just the other day I took a bath and washed my hair and ended up feeling rather gross the next day.

  • Josie

    #6 Who do you invite to your dinner parties? I wish I could get people to offer to bring something. I’d happily tell them if they would only ask.

    • Erik

      A bit OT, but I remember a large family gathering when one family member was tasked with bringing mashed potatoes. She showed up with a box of mix – and just put it on the counter!

  • Zella

    A fun read!