10 British Habits Americans Will Never Understand

(Half Moon)

When in doubt, make a cuppa. (Half Moon)

Admit it: we’re a nation of oddballs whose conventions and mannerisms defy logic. Read on for a rundown of our most bewildering traits.

1. Apologizing Unnecessarily
How often do you — a Brit living in the U.S. — auto-deliver a completely unnecessary, “Sorry?” I’m a 10-a-day gal. Sometimes, the American on the receiving end, instead of simply ignoring me or looking confused, will ask: “Why are you apologizing?” I’ve never given a satisfactory answer. (See Toni Hargis’ post for an in-depth look at this phenomenon.)

2. Drinking Too Much
In America, all-day boozing sessions are for alcoholics, tramps and the seriously miserable. A happy Brit, meanwhile, is one whose weekend pub-crawl starts at 6pm on a Friday and ends Sunday evening.

3. Forgetting to Eat
Often because we’ve indulged in point number two, Brits are terrible at remembering to feed themselves at regular intervals. Food-focused types like myself will always check that a night out is scheduled to include a meal stop; it’s never just assumed. Americans, meanwhile, make brunch, lunch or dinner dates. All other activities, like drinking, are supplementary.

4. Enjoying the Misfortune of Others
Nothing brightens a Brit’s day like discovering someone we didn’t particularly like lost their job or misspelled a status update. I get a smugness buzz every time I clock an acquaintance’s incorrect apostrophe usage. Americans, meanwhile, seem to spend less time thinking about other people, in a good way.

5. Doing Ourselves Down
As previously mentioned, Brits revel in the downfall of others. But we don’t want to come off as mean so we also make a point of knocking our own achievements. This makes us miserable. On the plus side, there’s the option of an “I never boasted about my Nobel prize on Facebook” gravestone inscription. (Note: a posthumous brag is borderline acceptable.)

6. Thinking Tea Will Fix Everything
A brew is our go-to panacea. Whether you’ve chipped a nail, broken up with your boyfriend or narrowly avoided being murdered, the first person on-scene will offer you a cuppa. This way, they get to keep busy, feel useful and put off coming up with soothing, wise words.

7. Our Reluctance to Fix Our Teeth
Having aesthetically displeasing teeth is every Brit’s right. Turn up at an American dentist’s with a gob full of wonky enamel, and they’ll probably assume you’re British, or grew up in a vile cult that outlawed orthodontics.

8. Poor Communication Skills
Since living here, I’ve noticed that Americans are much better at looking you in the face and saying what they mean. Brits are abysmal at eye contact, telling you how they feel and what they’d like to happen. We overuse phrases like, “I think maybe…” and “Perhaps we could just… ”

9. Driving a Stick-shift on the Wrong Side of the Road
I’m convinced that some Americans believe that driving on the left is an eccentric choice made by individuals, not a rule laid down by British law. And while U.K. drivers think performing maneuvers in manual cars is the height of masculinity, tell someone here you prefer a stick and it’s like admitting you do laundry in the river.

10. Our Desire to Laugh at Ourselves
Might I leap temporarily out of character and deploy a small boast on behalf of my nation? (Yes, yes, I realize this basically invalidates about four previous points.) Brits are masters of the self-deprecating gag, and this is confusing to countries like America with aggressively high self-esteem. Whole sitcoms — most recently Twenty Twelve – have pivoted on the point that we’re reliably incompetent.

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.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis