8 Stupid Mistakes Brits Make in America

The age-old issue of tipping. (Photo: Bryan Costin via flickr Creative Commons)

The age-old issue of tipping. (Photo: Bryan Costin via flickr Creative Commons)

Let’s be honest, Brits on holiday can be a little bit dreadful. Alas, we’re often not much better when we’re living in another country, stubbornly refusing to bow down to the local customs and quirks. Here’s how we disgrace ourselves in the U.S.

We moan about tipping
Even Brits who’ve been in the U.S. for years can’t get their heads around how much American wait staff expect in gratuity. It’s like they think they’re tipping one percenters – not, as is more often the case, some poor kid who’s considering eBaying their body parts to pay for college. And so we don’t put down enough, or we complain about it at volume. Sometimes both.

We overindulge
Our understanding of the American Dream is this: so long as you’re on U.S. soil, you can eat what you like and somehow still have the thighs of a cheerleader. This is why normally health-conscious Brits ditch their food rules as soon as they land in the U.S. and start inhaling burgers. It’s a manageable lapse if you’re on holiday for a fortnight but rather more problematic if you’re planning to live here. Generally, it’s around the one-year mark that we notice none of the trousers we arrived with do up.

We refuse to use the American words for things
Just because some Americans think it’s fun and exotic to say “loo,” it doesn’t mean expats can bandy about British vernacular in the U.S. without raising eyebrows — and hackles. Still, many Brits persist. We invented the language, they say, so Americans need to accommodate our “correct” terminology and phrasing. While it’s understandable that most of us don’t want to give up our native accent, I’m afraid learning new words and applying them correctly is part of the deal when you emigrate.

We buy expensive British things
On a trip to a local British-themed shop a while ago, I impulse bought a box of suet for roughly nine times the price it would have been in Sainsbury’s. This, despite the fact that I’m not entirely sure what suet is for, once it’s finished coating the kidneys of farmyard animals. Still, I had to have it. Two years later, it’s nearly out of date and living out its golden years behind some stale walnuts.

We neglect to arrange health cover
Whether it’s travel insurance for a short-term stay or a proper American healthcare plan, a scary number of Brits think nothing of rocking up with no coverage in place. It’s on the to-do list somewhere south of “rent a flat” and “learn how to make pumpkin pie.” There are not enough column inches on the Internet for me to adequately express how stupid this is.

We “forget” to carry ID
If you look like you could be under 30 then you will most likely be asked to show identification, either when buying drinks or before you’re admitted to an establishment that sells alcohol. Still, many Brits purposefully leave their ID at home preferring to lock horns with doormen and bar staff, who almost definitely won’t back down because they could lose their job. Believe me when I say, you are the douchebag in this scenario.

We think we can walk everywhere
British cities, towns and villages were designed with pedestrians in mind; America’s not so much. But visiting and expat Brits refuse to accept that they can’t head out for a stroll so can often be seen determinedly plodding where no sensible American has ever plodded — like along the side of a five-lane freeway.

We underestimate how long it will take to get anywhere
Because you can drive from one end of the U.K. to the other in under a day, Brits assume this is the case wherever they are. It takes years to rework your geographical expectations to fit a massive slab of country like America. I’ve been here 28 months and still find myself telling friends visiting Chicago that they can easily “pop” over to Brooklyn. Funnily enough, while Brits would bristle at a mammoth road trip between two cities in the same country, Americans think nothing of driving 12 hours for a weekend away.

What silly mistakes do Brits make when they travel or live abroad? Tell us below:

See more:
So You Want to Marry an American…
How to Build a Credit Rating in the U.S. – One Option
10 Things Brits Do That Drive Americans Nuts

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.
  • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

    I think I must be over-compensating for my fellow Brits as I usually over tip!

  • Mark Smith

    The thing that totally throws me is when there’s a mandatory gratuity – just when I think I’ve got the hang of the whole thing :-) Been here 4 years now too!

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

      There is often a gratuity automatically included when the party is over 6 or 8, which then throws me into a quandary. I mean, am I supposed to tip on top of that?

      • Cheryl Krin

        NO, that is the entire gratuity
        in that case.

        • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

          In some restaurants, the added gratuity is pooled, while your tip goes to the waiter only. That would be my quandary.

          • Mark Smith

            That’s their choice to run things that way, and in most cases you would never know anyway.

          • Cheryl Krin

            That is a matter of restaurant policy and anything you give directly to the waiter will still have to be shared in that situation.

    • Msitver

      Mandatory Gratuity makes it easy. It means pay what they ask and nothing more.

  • Kirstyb

    I always tip well! I do say pants for trousers but I can’t say diaper, just sounds daft with the Scottish accent. Been here 8 years :)

    • Sunshine1011

      I tip well if the server earned the tip.

  • David Whovian

    Suet is for birds, especially woodpeckers! Hang it in your backyard or outside a window, in a basket that woodpeckers can cling to, and they will come (if there are any around)!

  • kbpickens

    Suet is for making suet pastry. You use it to make traditional pies and such. It can also be used in making lotions, ointments, and other medicinal items.

  • English Rose

    Suet will last quite a while if you throw it in the freezer. I use it for dumplings but mostly for making mincemeat to go in mince pies as you really can’t get a decent mince pie here or the ready-made mincemeat. Warning: you will see something called mincemeat in glass bottles in supermarkets… don’t buy it!

    Both of my girls have waitressed in the US and I heard so many horrendous tales of rude customers who ‘stiffed’ them that I now usually tip 20% if the service is good. Their base rate is so low that they rely on tips to survive. If you plan on going to a restaurant on a regular basis, be generous and you will be loved…

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

      And don’t forget that wherever there is a minimum wage regulation/law, it often doesn’t apply to employees who are tipped; in other words, their tips are factored in beforehand as part of their wages.

      • Cheryl Krin

        More than that. Since the 1980’s they have been taxed on tips the government thinks they should receive as opposed to what they actually receive. It is possible for them to work a night and end up owing more in taxes than they made if their tips are low.

        • Bob Sconce

          That’s a bit of a myth. In the US, restaurants are allowed to pay workers below the “minimum wage” with the expectation that they’ll make up the difference in tips. When that doesn’t happen, though, the Restaurant has to make up the difference. The waitstaff, then, is taxed on the full amount received — base pay + tips + amount extra contributed by restaurant.

          THe problem, though, is that restaurants don’t want to pay that much. So, if a waitperson doesn’t make regular tips, they may lie about that to avoid losing their jobs. And, in that case, they have to pay tax as if they’d didn’t lie.

          • Tracy Walker

            That doesn’t actually work in practice. If you don’t make minimum tips, and you tell your boss, he is likely to decide you are a poor waitress and fire you. A lot of waitresses will keep their mouths shut for that reason, hoping for better customers another night, rather than risk losing their job altogether.

          • Bert

            It is not below minimum. It is a diff minimum wage for tipped service employees. Minimum also only applies if they have a certain number of employees. In a cafe with 6 employees min-wage laws do not apply.

          • Tracy Hamilton

            What restaurant do you work in? I waitressed for 10 years and that was never, ever the case. If you had a bad night, you were out of luck. No restaurant “makes up the difference”.

      • Rick Fictus

        If the total with tips does not come to federal minimum wage, then the employer has to pay the difference.

        • Paul Miller

          “Has to” is a relative notion. In that the restaurant “has to” alter the tip reports to make you even out to minimum, or the waitstaff “has to” lie about the numbers to keep their job, not that the employee “has to” make a living wage.

          • lucascott

            No the boss doesn’t ‘have to’ alter anything. And if he does then the employee can and should file a labor complaint.

    • lucascott

      In basically every state if your declared tips plus wage is less than min wage, they have to pay up to that level. Which is why many servers will pocket cash tips and not report them to the boss who only has tips added to the credit card to work off. They also don’t report that money for paying taxes. And since it was pocketed, if your employee ‘pools’ tips it’s out that also.

      The ‘poor’ server often isn’t as much as you think.

    • Andrew

      Surely if you tip generously you can only be treated well on a return visit and not treated well retrospectively? 😉

      My wife was a restaurant server and bar tender, so tipping – in cash – is well ingrained.

  • Guest

    Hardest thing for this Yank to learn in England was not to tip at pubs as well as not to show the money that I had in my wallet. While I did hate the British while I was working in England for the few 2 months I hit a point at which I started to love the Brits and their very peculiar culture. Stay uniquely British but do tip better. I found that the wait staff at restaurants in London definitely appreciated a good tip.

  • Guest

    The hardest thing for this Yank to learn whilst working in the UK was not to tip in pubs and the other was not to show the money in my wallet. I had many more things to learn about British culture but those were the most difficult. It wasn’t easy learning British culture but it was definitely well worth it. I came back to the US a better man for it.

    • Mark Smith

      What do you mean about the wallet thing?

      • Guest

        Us Yanks don’t think much about opening our wallets and displaying how much cash we have unless the area we are in is dicey. A friend I made in England, at the time he was an ex-pat Yank married to a Brit and manager of the General Elliot pub which is across from where I worked in Uxbridge, told me after I opened my wallet stuffed w/ £20 notes for my expenses to pay for my drinks one evening. He warned me to be discrete because it wasn’t the polite thing to do to display my money in front of everyone. Made sense to me especially at that time when there was so much unemployment and anti-US sentiments.

        • Mark Smith

          Intriguing. Don’t know that it’s a universal (I’m from the north of England), but I suppose the rationale makes sense.

        • Salamander Calamander

          Americans don’t call themselves “Yanks” or “Yankees” except when referring to the baseball team of the same name; the term is very archaic, I think the only place it is still used is in Britain.

          • K.Smart

            not entirely true.. in the deep south many people still refer to ‘Northerners’ as Yankees although the shorter term of Yank would be rare.

          • mooster

            Which means they don’t use the term in reference to themselves, which is what the lizard dude said.

          • Hamblerger

            And if you call a Southerner a Yank, he or she is likely to take insult.

          • Guest

            We don’t call ourselves Yanks in the US. But it is a term that is commonly used in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, maybe other places. It just became second nature for me to say it while I was living and working in England. I picked up the British way of saying things as well as the British way of spelling words. It has carried on ever since. The Aussies have even more interesting terms for us American surfers than the term Yank. Try Seppo on for size. It’s short for septic tank which rhymes with Yank. I’d rather be a Yank any day.

          • kris

            Oh I get it- I would presume you also managed to pick up the accent too, a’ la Uma Thurman or Madonna?

          • Paula Louise Neale

            And Australia

        • Rhaspun

          I’ve never like showing how much money is in my wallet. I’ve always subtlety turned my wallet so others can’t easily see inside.

          • Coco Lax

            I have to be carefull turning my wallet otherwise a condom falls out.

    • kris

      The dumbest thing a “Yank” can say is “whilst”.

      • Merry Bond

        Geesh! Having a bad day?

      • Andrew

        Really? Maybe you could add that statement to a similar list: Dumbest thing a “Kris” can say.

  • Crystal D

    I am an American and as an English major, I do agree we should have adopted the British English as you have stated, you guys DID invent the language. I do catch myself using words like “telly” and I find it fun!

    • gn

      I don’t think “telly” was a word in 1776 :)

    • mattieshoes

      Actually, it’s often a case of British English changing faster than American English… The Brits changed from “faucet” to “tap” for instance, but Americans still use “faucet”. Now they’ve forgotten faucet and think we’re making up words!

      Similarly, some Brits find it strange we use the word “Fall” for “Autumn”, but again, they’re the ones to blame for it. :-)

    • Irené Colthurst

      Should have adopted? Sorry, that’s not how linguistic change based on founders’ effects (the case with American English) works. Once one way of speaking at one point in time gets established in relative isolation, it will develop all on its own.

  • James Barnwell

    Where did you find suet “over here”?

    • Mimi

      Go to any butcher shop or large supermarket that cuts its own meat and ask the butcher for “clean white suet for cooking”. Otherwise you will get scraps for feeding the birds.

      • James Barnwell

        Thank you!

  • gn

    I’d counter that refusing to walk anywhere, even when it’s quite possible and safe, is a stupid mistake many locals make :)

  • Brett in MN

    The entire UK is only 8% larger than the state of Minnesota. Yeah, there’s a bit of a difference in scale…

    • mattieshoes

      “smaller than Oregon” is the comparison I use… :-)

    • Irené Colthurst

      “About the size of New York State”. Also, Scotland by itself is about the size of Maine.

  • Rose

    It varies from state to state, but in most states, servers earn way below minimum wage, or less than $3 an hour. I worked as a server in a few places in college and my paycheck was pretty much always for $0.00. That’s right, your wage just covers your social security contribution and taxes. You are also taxed on 12% of your sales at the restaurant, so if you do not tip, you are essentially COSTING your server money. Tips are essentially a servers ONLY income.

    I know foreigners do not like our tipping customs, but the truth is that going out to eat in the US is generally cheaper than in the UK, so it works out to being about the same. I cannot fathom that Brits find our tipping notions to be confusing or anything, for surely an moderately educated person can work out 15% of a sum. Again, the total cost of going out to eat works out to be the same, you merely pay the server directly in the US.

    • Sunshine1011

      If you do a good job you will get my tip. If you don’t then you learn a life lesson.

      • Coco Lax

        A life lesson? LOLOL. there is hardly a life lesson in it. Most servers are too busy to care. I never did. I took what I got and had other customers to attend. When you’re a server, every customer is a story. All types. I swear I should have written a book about customers because it’s like going to a zoo. Every one is different in their own way and I swear that everyone’s defenses drop and they become their true colors.

        • Christian Farmer

          The server I didn’t tip was “busy” yakking it up in the kitchen for 25 minutes while my 7 friends and I were the only table around.

  • Tony

    i had to learn how to pronounce colour as color.

  • DutchS

    We love your accent, provided it’s intelligible. Some of your thicker local accents are a challenge.

    The U.S. is as big as the Continent. Los Angeles to New York is like Lisbon to Moscow. Miami to Maine is like Messina to Oslo (just verified on Google Earth).

    H.L. Mencken once defined a puritan as someone who is haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy. American restauranteurs are haunted by the fear that somewhere there’s a waiter not putting out maximum effort. Lots of us feel tipping should be abolished, too.

    When I travel abroad I always carry ID. It’s just common sense.

    Europeans are more civilized about many things than Americans. But when it comes to taking turns, they’re barbarians. Sorry.

  • schmoe

    OK tipping, here’s how I do it- I have been dependent on restaurant economics in the past(1970-1980) and to this day tip at least 20%, and if I feel the person has truly joined us in our dinner, I will give the equivalent of one of our food(not bar) share as a tip, essentially buying them dinner(app, salad, entree, dessert) with us. Just as at a bar, I order one and tell the barkeep to have one themselves- obviously they can’t drink like that at work, but they can take the equivalent in $$ from me as a tip. It helps me too, as I don’t care to feel “served” as much as joined. We always enjoy ourselves when dining out- we are not wealthy, but we can do this at least. I have gone out with people who actively start at 20% and subtract for various ‘infractions’ during the meal- really wrecks the night.

  • Doobie Brothers

    ok, this was the stoopid.

  • Nix_Nightbird

    Just remember, Brits, we Americans go to the hospital and are in the hospital. We don’t go to hospital and we’re never in hospital… Though many Americans are inhospitable.

    • groverpm

      You only have one hospital?

      • Coco Lax

        I think what “Nix” is saying is something similiar to how my ex-gf would say things. She is from Canada and when she discussed going to her University, she would say, “I attended University”, not “I attend a (or the) University”. Odd to me at first but I got used to it.

        • groverpm

          I was being facetious although only having one hospital would go some way to explaining the US’ lamentable position in the world healthcare ratings

  • xx

    I’m not sure about the point on eating… the UK is the second fattest major country in the world.

    • Middy

      The U.K. isn’t made up of a single country.

      • xx

        You’re right. I should have been more careful with my wording.

  • Mithrilrose

    Suet is used in real mincemeat pies
    i found the recipe in this list

    it’s mincemeat recipe 2

  • lucascott

    Don’t forget about not adding tax. It’s not in the ‘shelf’ price cause it varies from place to place

  • Cherie DeMichele Manzano

    When I worked at a few restaurant jobs several years back, I received 2.00 to 2.18 per hour tips or no tips. The restaurant NEVER paid any extra.

  • IdahoGeekette

    visiting brits may not know that wait staff aren’t paid living wage, the tips are considered their income and this is approved by government and accounted for in tax forms. Many are railing against this and wanting staff to get living wages and make tipping optional.

  • IGSpur

    I genuinely started to laugh out loud at the walking comment. I walk everywhere in England and when I was staying in upstate NY for 2 months I would find myself trying to walk to town alongside the freeways and I can only imagine how foolish I must have looked

  • Sally

    Tipping…..there are so many sides to this which yes, include the smaller wage wait service personnel receive. However, giving good service is such a huge cultural difference. I waited tables through University and grad school and took great pleasure and responsibility in helping my patrons having as close to a perfect evening as I could provide. Living in London for 5 years has made me appreciate it all the more. I tip here…and I tip well if I receive exceptional service. Being treated with genuine kindness here is such a rarity sometimes I want to give them my whole paycheck for being nice to me and caring about my needs!

  • scottiesrock

    Nobody has mentioned that most servers are part time, working less that 35 hours/week. Minimum wage does not apply to them in my state. Tips are what they lived on. Wages are sinfully low. If service is poor they get poor tips, which is why most servers will bust their buns to give you the best service–even if you are a jerk.

  • Andrew

    My wife (American) and I stayed in an off-strip hotel in Las Vegas and decided that we’d walk – it was only a mile, after all. The server at breakfast was aghast and after walking past more pawn shops, strip joints and puffa-jacket-wearing Latinos (in 90+ degree heat) we realised why.