10 Things That Brits Don’t Realize Are Offensive to Americans

Ricky Gervais makes good money offending everyone in sight, but if you just want to make friends and not alienate people in America, here are 10 things to avoid. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Admit it Britishers — subtly is not our strong suit, and it’s alarmingly easy to insult Americans if you’re unaware of their etiquette.  To get on in polite company, try to avoid the following faux pas.

Folks here tend to dismiss cursing as coarse and vulgar whereas, for Brits, it can signify affection or a well-rounded sense of humor. I have to confess, I don’t even notice how much I swear anymore — it must be getting on for every other word.

Sex talk and toilet humor
Like swearing, discussing what goes on between the sheets or on the loo is a lot less common among friends in the U.S. I only get to talk toilet trash when I’m back in the U.K., where I’ll happily spend an evening necking a full-bodied Rioja and discussing orifices.

Criticizing America
It’s easy to assume that a self-hating American would love nothing more than to spend time with you, a non-American, pulling the place apart. Most, however, do possess a lingering sense of loyalty and will resent an outsider weighing in too heavily.

Calling them “Yanks”
The “Y” word won’t offend every American you meet, but never use it to address folks from the South. There, it’s likely to earn you a stern look or a full-on snarl.

Stingy tipping
Not only will you insult your server by leaving slim pile of ones as thanks for a dinner that’s run into three figures, you’ll embarrass any American diners in your party. If you’re the person picking up the check, never stint on service unless everyone at your table agrees that the experience was shoddy enough to merit a tiny tip.

Friendly-offensive banter
Brits exchange jovial insults because we’re too uptight and emotionally stunted to say how we really feel. The stronger your friendship, the more you can lay into each other and still come away with a warm feeling. This is not how Americans roll. Tell your U.S. pal he’s a moron, a twat or a daft f***, and you likely won’t get invited to his wedding.

Mocking their heritage
When an American announces that they’re part Irish, part Polish and part Moldovan because their great-great-grandparents hailed from these far-off lands, you might find yourself snorting dismissively. Try to hold off until they’re out of earshot.

Saying Americans are unsophisticated
Even if you’re standing in line at Disney World, slurping a bucket of Pepsi and thinking, “My, this is country is a cultureless void,” don’t voice it publicly.  After all, you’re the one who bought the swimming pool-size soda and a ticket to a theme park rather than, say, the Guggenheim.

British reserve
When foreigners meet us, we’re not always warm and cuddly. Americans in particular can take this the wrong way. Looking startled and responding monosyllabically to a stranger’s “Hi! How are you today?” will be perceived as rude.

Criticizing their food
Declaring that American cuisine begins with burgers and ends with cheeseburgers will be considered hostile, even if your U.S. audience secretly agrees with you.

What are some etiquette tips for foreigners on American soil? Tell us below:

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.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.