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We may have hard shells, but Brits are a squishy, sensitive bunch underneath. Say or do the wrong thing, and we will get the hump. The following howlers are guaranteed to set us off.
Not offering to buy a round
The practice of getting the drinks in, with every member of the group taking a turn, is standard British pub etiquette. Anyone not partaking is silently deemed a tight arse. Americans, however, don’t operate like this and tend to take care of themselves at the bar. Fair enough, but this kind of conduct will upset any Brit in their party.
Sticking two fingers up at someone
Handily, pointing an about-turned, erect middle digit up at an adversary means the same in both lands. But what Americans often don’t realize is that standing their index finger up next to it (a reverse peace sign) is just as insulting in the U.K. Which is to say, not very, by we still might punch you if we’re drunk.
Taking our plates away
Why oh why don’t restaurant staffers wait until EVERYONE at the table has finished before confiscating the china? America’s overly efficient crockery removal system makes British diners feel either judged for speed-eating (me) or like they’re taking up the table for too long (everyone else).
Talking in the cinema
This is baffling to me. I get that kids the world over talk through films and generally make it their business to ruin the experience for anyone old enough to have rogue hairs growing in unmentionable places. But the grownups too? Only in America.
Not making introductions
I think I finally understand why Americans rarely remember to introduce me to their friends at parties; I’m supposed to be doing it myself. But, like most Brits, I hate this system because talking to strangers without a facilitator gives me a stomach ache and hives.
Americans can linger on the subject for hours without feeling uncomfortable. For Brits, meanwhile, talking about how much we make is unthinkable – only marginally less so than discussing our feelings.
There are probably no more than five or six Brits alive today who are willing to admit to having been “in treatment.” Americans, on the other hand, think nothing of starting a sentence, “So, my therapist says…” Talk like this in British company and we’ll scarper like antelope at a convention for big cats with appetite control issues.
Describing something as “quite” good
Using “quite” to mean “very” is an English language anachronism that’s thriving in the U.S. A British friend recently told me about the time his American partner joined him for a family Christmas back home. Thinking she was offering up high praise, she managed to upset her U.K. hosts by describing dinner as “quite good.” To their ears, “quite” in this context detracted from the “good”: the meal was passable but could have been better.
Brits love to grumble retrospectively but rarely do so in the moment, because that would mean putting someone out and causing a scene. For instance, I’m much more comfortable just leaving that lump of raw, salmonella-oozing chicken on my plate. But beware: if this kind of thing happens when you’re dining with an American, they will most likely speak up on your behalf and not understand why you find this humiliating.
We Brits find put-on congeniality, especially in stores, deeply irritating. It’s not that I want shop assistants to be actively rude. But neither do I want to expend energy responding to someone who’s been paid to ask, “How are you today?” in the style of an over-zealous children’s TV presenter when I’m busy trying to work out which knickers in Gap are the least likely to ride up my tush.
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See more posts by 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.