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Love Americans as we do, there are some cultural proclivities that will baffle British expats for as long as we live here.
Digging sharp string between your teeth everyday is standard oral hygiene procedure in America. We know we’re supposed to do this too, but it hurts and it’s boring. Most Brits probably own a tub of floss, but only dust it off before a date or dental appointment.
2. Compulsive baking
This one I like, although I don’t get how people with children and jobs and pets find the time to whip up regular batches of themed, iced and elaborately flavored cupcakes, muffins and brownies. It’s America’s most family friendly superpower.
3. Sending personalized holiday cards
By this, I mean those creepy Christmas cards with a family portrait on the front. The children are wearing elf outfits while the parents grin unnaturally. Inside, there’s a run-down of the family’s year and, more importantly, its achievements. I’ve even heard of people inserting copies of their kids’ report cards.
4. Talking to strangers unprompted
This happens most often on public transport. I’ll be on a plane or train in the U.S., minding my own business, when someone I’ve never met will try to start a conversation. Short of pretending to be deaf and/or French, there’s nothing to be done.
Americans like to let the world know that they’re having fun — or approve heartily of what’s being said or done in front of them — by contorting their vocal chords into a shape that will allow them to pump out obnoxious mouth hoots, one after another. One word: earplugs.
6. Compulsive sentimentality
Gushing public displays are usually meant well but give Brits the creeps. For instance, my husband and I recently checked out of a B&B after a two-night stay. Instead of bidding us farewell with a firm handshake and a receipt, the owner – a man in his 50s – latched on to me, then my man, for a prolonged hug. Just when we thought it was over, he announced, “I’ll miss you guys!” No, actually. You won’t.
7. Drinking milk
Moo juice is meant for putting on cereal, adding to pancake batter and pouring in tea. Americans must have missed the memo because they drink the stuff neat. To me, this is only slightly less absurd than eating a plate of salt and pepper for dinner.
8. Ordering supersize portions
In American cinemas, patrons load up with pails of soda so vast they require their own seat. They must have bladders the size of hot air balloons. Plates of food, meanwhile, more closely resemble those guilt-inducing, this-is-what-you-eat-in-a-week spreads laid out by TV diet gurus than a single course of a single meal meant for one person.
9. Taking home leftovers
Thanks to the previous point, doggy bags have long been part of American restaurant culture. I can’t quite bring myself to make off with my unfinished fare. It feels… icky. Plus, I’ve usually overeaten, and I’m convinced I’ll never want to look at food again. Naturally, I regret this decision in the morning.
10. Eating breakfast together
You know in films featuring perfect American families there’s always a scene where an implausibly jolly parent makes the kids pancakes in the shape of dinosaurs, then the entire household sits down to a sumptuous spread. Well, I am reliably informed that this kind of thing actually happens here. Breakfast is something Brits have if they’re hung over or if the hotel they’re staying in provides it. We’d never be so eccentric as to sit down and eat it at the same time — and in the same location — as our loved ones.
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Which American habits baffle Brits? Tell us below:
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.