6 British Customs That Will Puzzle Americans

No, Americans will never understand Morris dancing. (Photo: Rex Features via AP Images)

No, Americans will never understand Morris dancing. (Photo: Rex Features via AP Images)

We’re a wonderfully eclectic people who will defend our regional weirdness and national idiosyncrasies to the death. But don’t expect your American friends to appreciate Britain’s funny little “ways.”

Celebrating the defeat of ye olde terrorists with displays of explosives
On November 5, we commemorate the foiling of the 1605 plot by English Catholic Restorationists and their top dog Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And what better way to mark the traitors’ downfall than by burning “Guys” on bonfires, watching fireworks and munching toffee apples and candy floss prepared by carnival folk. The more miscreant members of the British society like to express their excitement by purchasing boxes of substandard but still extremely dangerous home fireworks and launching them at cars, cats and pedestrians.

Morris dancing
This hilariously twee English folk dance is a tradition made only slightly more masculine by the wearing of three-quarter length trousers with bells on them and waving handkerchiefs. Someone observing Morris dancing for the first time would be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled across a desperately polite cult of middle-aged gentlemen seeking to hypnotize onlookers with jollity and sticks.

Cheese-rolling
A U.S. citizen might have won one of the races at this year’s “Cheese Rolling and Wake” but most people in the States still haven’t heard of the ancient annual competition. Tell an American that some Brits like to spend the late May bank holiday pursuing a nine-pound double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill in the Cotswolds and they’ll probably think you’re making it up. They’ll also ask: “What’s a bank holiday?”

Wolf-whistling builders
Fat, tattooed and topless (weather permitting) British workmen missed the memo that deemed sexism unacceptable in the workplace. Consequently, they make the executives on Mad Men look like raging feminists. One of the best things about moving to the U.S. as a lady person was an end to the leering, jeering and wolf whistling when I’d amble past a building site. Incidentally, adopting an unsmiling, hands in pockets stance does you no favors either, merely eliciting cries of “Cheer up love, it might never happen.”

Extreme sunbathing
We’re so vitamin D deprived in the U.K. that the merest smattering of sunlight combined with an above freezing temperature reading has us reaching for towels and splaying ourselves on a the ground. I’ve seen this happen at roundabouts, motorway service stations and on the embankments of the M25. There is nowhere Brits won’t bed down and bask. People lucky enough to live in the U.S., where summer all but guarantees fine conditions, are more discerning.

Having toast for breakfast
Only in Britain is lightly charred bread considered a meal. Everywhere else, including the U.S., it’s an accompaniment. But toast dressed with a stingy smear of something you found in a cupboard is all the average adult Brit will have to eat pre-lunch. Some won’t even have that. What’s more, they’ll boast about it like it’s an achievement. (“I’ve only had a piece of toast all day!”)

See more:
‘Real Americans’: Five Widely Held Stereotypes Debunked
10 British Habits Americans Will Never Understand
10 British Insults Americans Won’t Understand

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