8 Instances When You Should Play Up Your Britishness in America

British Accent

This t-shirt says a lot in just ten words. (We♥It)

It’s no secret that the merest murmur of a British accent turns the average American into a heap of delighted, obliging mush. So I say: use this to your advantage.

When you want to spend less
Canny Brits will already know that they can play the “tourist discount” card when they shop at a major U.S. department store. But some retailers give the staff power to offer a discretionary discount—usually around 10 percent. Your accent plus lashings of awkward, bumbling Britishness will probably help you sway them, though you will also need to give them a reason to slash the price for you, other than being foreign.

When you’re trying get your child into a good school
And by “school,” I mean both the kiddie variety and college. If there’s an interview process, encourage your offspring to play up his or her background. It’ll make them seem worldly, intelligent (see next point) and perhaps less like the lackadaisical, monosyllabic teen you know them to be. If they don’t sound at least partially British, blast them with episodes of Blue Peter for a few week and hope it takes.

When you want to sound smart
I’ve no idea why but Americans assume Brits—and not just them plums-in-mouth kind—are intelligent. You could be reading out soup ingredients and you’ll still have any locals listening wondering how you got to be so clever.

When you’re apologizing
Saying sorry is basically our national superpower and sport. No one apologizes as frequently and unnecessarily as we do. Americans find it weird but also quite charming. On the off chance that you’ve actually done something wrong, a bumbling British sorry will instantly disarm the injured party.

When you’re interviewing
Job interviews will also benefit from you angling the conversation towards your origins. A beguiling anecdote or two (entirely fabricated is fine) about that time you did PR for Buck Palace (yeah right) or fetched Helen Mirren tea (not likely, matey) will have any American employer begging to put you on staff.

When you’re complaining
We’re not a people that generally likes to make a fuss, so when we have a go it gets noticed. So, your omelet was cold and tasted of fermented tramp. Don’t ignore it this time. Instead, put on your best Countess of Somewhere-shire voice and let rip. You’ll have people falling over themselves to bring you replacement eggs. Of course, this is America so that probably would have happened anyway.

When you need help
Asking for assistance in your most polite and smiling British way virtually guarantees success. But in return you may need to engage in a not necessarily brief follow up conversation about where you’re from exactly and whether you know your American savior’s friend’s cousin who lives in Aberdeen—or is it Aberystwyth?

When you want to cover up a mistake
Because Americans enjoy thinking we’re smart and authoritative, they’re very willing to go along with any version of events that keeps that illusion alive. Should you get your facts wrong, simply claim whatever it is you just said is in fact the case in the U.K. Even if you’ve just denied the existence of gravity—or horses—some will believe you as long as you back up your argument with literally any old guff delivered in the Queen’s English.

Have you ever used your Britishness to your advantage in America? Tell us how below.

See more:
6 British Customs That Will Puzzle Americans
10 Signs That You’ll Never Move Back to Britain
10 Ways to Use Britishness to Get What You Want in America

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.
  • Peebeebee

    Yes. Travelling around the midwest doing research for a federal dept. I just had to ask for directions and people would do anything for me. I could ask anything. They took me into their homes. I got all my questions answered which would not have happened if I’d been an American govt. researcher (this area being a little sensitive about what they see as federal interference). As long as I didn’t mention God or politics I had a great time.

    • Andrew

      Or science….

    • Robin

      As an American, I can freely admit that we are a curious and (usually) friendly bunch. My family and I spent two weeks traveling around the U.K. and I was surprised at the lack of “chattiness” in the people we met.

      Is talking to strangers or travelers considered somehow rude? The most outgoing person we met on the trip was an Australian living in Edinburgh. :)

      • Andrew

        Get out of the big cities and people are really chatty. Also surprised that you visited Edinburgh and didn’t find them that friendly.

        • Robin

          To be fair, we were only in Edinburgh for a day. Most of the time, we were in the Cotswolds, London, and the Welsh border area. And no one was unfriendly, just not chatty. We still had a fantastic time!

          • Andrew

            The Welsh are a law unto themselves – they’re suspicious of the English, so Americans don’t have a chance! London needs no comment – big cities are usually impersonal, although I’ve had a few decent chats with strangers, there. Depends where you are, maybe. The Cotswolds I know nothing about.

            Shame you only got a day in Edinburgh. It’s my favourite city, so far.

          • bentyger

            Sorry, I’m Welsh, some of us don’t like the English (not me btw), but we have no problem with Americans, aside from the political stuff that everyone else does;)

          • Andrew

            I stand – happily – corrected. In fact, my comment was facetious. I’ve spent a lot of time in Wales and found the natives to be pretty warm, although less so in the south or more rural areas.

      • Sarah Kettle

        People don’t normally speak to strangers without a good reason. It can (although not always) come off as insincere or creepy. In a big city with lots of tourists or foreigners it also makes sense because that person might not understand English and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable.

        • TMarius

          Depends on the setting more than anything.

          In a suburban or rural area, I find that many people will speak to me if we are waiting in line, or doing something like choosing a specific type of ammunition out of a case display in a walmart.

          If anyone speaks to me about anything in a city (especially for directions), I am going to begin mentally preparing to be attacked.

  • SunnyLikeSunshine

    As an American gal, I’d say you maybe forgot one of the more important times to use that Brit accent: getting a date. #swoonworthy

    • English Rose

      Spot on, Sunny! I’m a Brit and am not looking to date anyone and it gets so bad that I’m thinking of cultivating a Texan accent 😀

      • John Holroyd

        Wanna date? I am a Brit who is a sucker for the Texas accent.

        • TMarius

          It’s the cowboy thing, dude.

      • TMarius

        Actually, IME a light North Texan accent combined with a baritone voice seems to be very attractive to Canadians, Scots, and Germans. I dunno why. Think it was a blend of the whole spaghetti western thing with the fact that it was diluted enough so that I sounded somewhat cosmopolitan.

    • John Holroyd

      Oh no she didn’t. Grin. None of us forget that particular gem.

    • AuthZH

      I was JUST about to say that! Glad to know I’m not the only one!

  • Brian Rayca

    I read this in a British accent just so it would sound as intelligent as it is.

  • Bea

    It’s brilliant for asking directions. Whether you’re actually British or not.

    • Knitterbird

      Absolutely. A few years ago I lived in the most fun house share ever. One of our traditions for any house mate about to go off on holiday was to set them challenges. So as I departed for California, I was instructed to approach someone and ask (and I quote specifically) “do you know the way to San Jose?”.

      So, convinced I was going to be decked when I did this, one day, at a petrol station in California I asked for said directions in my poshest British accent (which in fairness is naturally at the upper end of the posh scale) & braced for the worst.

      Bless him, he replied that as I left the station I needed to take a left towards the freeway and once on the freeway heading north I’d see the signs.

      • frozen01

        The person probably thought you were genuinely lost, though.

      • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

        Referring to it as a “petrol station” while “on holiday” would convince most who do not dislike “foreigners.”

  • Anon Y. Mous

    Just make sure it’s a posh accent. Some of us can tell the difference.

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

      Oooh, no. Not someone with a regional British accent. heaven forbid.

      • frozen01

        Nelson’s sort of right, though. Americans tend not to be very aware of the regional accents (outside of general Scottish and Irish) and think everyone in England basically sounds like the Queen. So if you come at them with a thick Geordie accent, for example, although they couldn’t tell you why, it would sound “off” to them.
        On the flip side, those of us who can (typically) tell the difference would probably carry the stereotypes about the region that we’ve learned. My fiance has taught me all sorts of really bad stereotypes, especially about the Welsh *lol* (All in jest, though!)

        • Francie Pound Hazen

          Not only that, but many Americans can’t understand anything with a regional tint to it. My mom’s family are all from Norwich so I don’t even notice accents, and I can understand all but the broadest Yorkshire. I have to laugh at my friends, though. Many of them have to turn on the close captions just to watch British TV because they can’t understand a word anyone but Benedict Cumberbatch says. I do a lot of translating. lol

          • frozen01

            It’s funny… I was a fan of UK TV before meeting my husband (we’ve since married), and even when this was a brand new world to me, I don’t remember ever having issues understanding what anyone said (unless that was part of the joke, of course). Yet I keep hearing people say that friends of theirs have to rely on closed captioning! I didn’t realize it was that big of a problem for so many people.
            However, I know exactly what you mean by “translating”. My husband is from the Manchester area, although he doesn’t have a particularly thick northern accent, but still he prefers to let me do the talking to avoid having to constantly repeat himself. (Or be misidentified as an Australian or… I kid you not, this actually happened… an Italian!)

        • Andrew

          I’m from Manchester and live in Colorado. I’ve been asked if I’m Australian/South African more than English. Also, some people are wilfully difficult – try saying petrol, aluminum or shop (instead of store) and they’ll claim they have no idea what you’re talking about, despite the fact that looking at context would answer their question. Maybe this has something to do with the lack of subtlety evident in the West…?

          • Andrew

            Maybe I should add that after attending private school and studying/living in Edinburgh for almost 6 years, I have only a mild ‘northern’ accent.

          • frozen01

            Seriously? South African?

            I’m actually sort of impressed with that one. I didn’t think most Americans knew even remotely what a South African accent sounded like.

            Do Coloradans not use “shop” as a noun? I’ll admit, around here we tend to use “store” more, but if I said “I’m heading down to the shop” I don’t think anyone would bat an eye.

          • Sanford Card

            In Michigan we refer to a shop as a place of employment, like an Auto shop, or foundry shop. A store is where we buy stuff.

          • UncleNat

            I also get Aussie, SA, and sometimes even NZ. I think it’s just that my North London accent has been moderated by teaching in the Midwest for 17 years, so they’re confused and taking a stab in the dark. I don’t think most of the people who guess that have any idea what the accent they’re referring to would actually sound like.

          • Jeff Charles Goolsby

            I’d say “Shop”, stateside, usually tends to connote Auto Mechanic Shop, or Wood Working Shop etc. most often. Or a small little store: Barber Shop, Candy Shop, Pawn Shop.

          • Mattie

            Funny, I am also from Colorado, born and raised, and I would say shop four out of five times. That being said, I can definitely think of a few people who are too dense to pick up on any hints whatsoever.

          • Andrew

            It’s usually baby-boomers. Need I say more?

        • Trish

          Norfolk n good thanks!

    • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

      Cockney would be right out. Liverpool-style could fly.

      • Andrew

        Other way round. They’ve heard Cockney from the Guy Ritchey films etc.

        • frozen01

          I find my London friends to be a bit trickier than my Scouse one. And now that you mention it, I’m going to have to revise my previous statement about never have issues with accents, because I just remembered that on my first trip to London, I couldn’t understand a d*mn thing the cab driver was saying *lol*

    • bbdrvr

      Some of us can tell the difference, but preferences vary. I’ve got a thing for the Manc accent, personally. And there are still a lot of people around who literally swoon for the Liverpool accent (thanks to the Beatles).

  • Stuart

    It doesn’t always work. Once in a midwest deli I asked “excuse me, but do you do tuna sandwiches?” and found myself thrown out of the store. still not sure why.

    • frozen01

      Depending on where in the Midwest you were, it may have been more about what you said than how. Like if you ask for ketchup on your hotdog in Chicago 😉

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

    The first job application I ever submitted in the USA was helped hugely by my British accent. I phoned up a few days after I sent it in, to “confirm” that they had received it. I was very friendly and polite on the phone and apparently the interviewer (soon to be my colleague) decided I sounded promising, and put my application on the top of the pile.

  • bill reeves

    My brother and I are Americans that grew up in English schools. My brother was young enough to pick up a nice RP accent. When he moved back to Houston he used it to good effect in the better bars. He used to say to me that having his accent was worth 10 IQ points and a million dollars with Texas women.

    On the other hand, trying to leverage your accent can backfire when you use it on someone like me who has seen both sides of the English bell curve. So caveat accentor.

    I also must say that your constant referencing of things as being ‘British’ as in ‘Talking British’ really throws me. I know you’re the British BC and inclusion and all of that but do you really talk that way now?

    One other thing. All generic villains in America are portrayed with plummy English accents. So if you are trying to persuade someone to do something sinister threats may work better for your accent than friendly appeals.

  • gn

    The cachet associated with a British accent may be deflating. In the past, British accents on US TV were associated with documentaries or “Masterpiece Theatre”. Today, it’s more likely to be Gordon Ramsey or a reality show.

    details of some (pretty sketchy) studies here.

  • MelonnaBanana

    This only works if the person you are talking to isn’t a military family member (accents become as common as English to us) or someone who doesn’t travel a lot. Won’t fly on much of the east coast. For some reason Irish accents never fail no matter where you are lol

    • MelonnaBanana

      and by English I mean the bastardized American version

      • frozen01

        Welllllll… British English and American English have both changed since the two countries split, but there are arguments that BrE has changed more. So technically, you could say AmE is closer to the “correct” version and BrE is more “bastardized” 😉

        • TMarius

          Do the Brits ever wonder why the Canadians and Yankees both have an almost identical accent?

          The way we speak now is the way all Britons spoke before the development of Received Pronunciation in the 1800s.

  • soxlade

    Much to my brother’s disgust I had terrific fun playing up my British accent while staying with him in Jacksonville, FL. I confused just about everybody with my enthusiastic support of the local football (not soccer) team by pronouncing their name, the Jacksonville Jaguars, correctly, as “Jag-Ew-Arr-z”.

    I also took to wearing a replica Gloucester Rugby Club shirt to the after game party in the Jacksonville Landing, which caused an awful lot of Steelers and Jag-u-ar fans to double take and try to figure out who the heck I was supporting, and which tribe I should belong to. I gained a couple of beers free too, and got to dance with the jazz band.

    Then it was on to a country and western bar where the rugby shirt’s main sponsor, English builder’s merchant Jewson, got a few fun comments, and my insistence on calling over the barman with the line “Excuse me, my good man!” convinced my brother that I was about to be shot.

    I made a lot a new, er, “best buds” but still can’t line-dance for toffee…

    Best of all were the two lovely old ladies at the, er, gas station the following day as we were fuelling up the rental car for the long journey to Key West who were getting me to say all sorts of different sentences like “How much for this butterfinger, please ma’am?” and “Cheese-Whizz: What the fudge??!” They seemed quite giddy, but it may have been the heat.

    I had a lot of fun evaluating a trip to Talledega and chatting to one of the ticket reps about the ‘camping facilities’ (“Yew are bringin an RV arentcha?” “Do you not recommend a tent and gazebo, then?” “Not really, no.”). She was so sweet and excited that four idiots from England were thinking of a road-trip to Talledega she was lining us up with paddock passes and VIP seating, bless her. Sadly we weren’t able to make the trip, but I’d love to go sometime just to experience the hospitality.

    I love the US, it’s great!

    • Andrew

      Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to stay.

  • Matthew David Martin Pittaway

    Jolly good article good show

  • http://BytesTemplar.com/ Fortyseven

    Worst part is, even KNOWING that you might use it to your advantage, it will still work. Witchcraft! 😉

  • Lisa

    I was an on-air DJ for a few years…it worked wonders!

  • http://widescreen.org OAR_John

    I guess I’m in the tiny minority of Americans (or maybe even the only one) who, when confronted with the phrase “British Accent”, immediately retorts with “Which accent? There are several accents in Britain.”

    Maybe it’s just that I tend to be snarky, too. :)

    • Andrew

      I’m from a town called Bury and the accent there is different to adjacent towns like Rochdale or Bolton, both only 15 minutes away.

      • frozen01

        My hubby used to work in Bury (he lived in Bolton) and yeah, I still haven’t gotten used to how the accents differ between locations so close to one another.

    • Sarah Kettle

      We appreciate it. Lots of us don’t like RP being considered the only “British” accent, either (and I speak RP… but I’m from Essex/Suffolk. Two very different accents, there.)

  • Lovetheaccenthatethetip!

    I’m a waitress , when we hear you coming we want to run the other way . Your up there with Canadian being the worse tippers !!! 20% or more if the service is great people !!! If the service sucks then we understand . In my state we make $3.26 an hour . Please tip your servers !!!!

    • UncleNat

      Please be assured that it’s not necessarily because Brits are cheap – it’s because restaurant staff in the UK are paid the same as everybody else (still on the low end, but with the same minimum), unlike in the US where it is assumed you will make most of your income on tips. In the UK, therefore, a tip is an earned recognition of very good service rather than something that is morally and economically necessary. After living in the US (and tipping around 20%) for many years, I sometimes forget this when I go back to the UK and make some mediocre British waitstaff very happy!

      • TMarius

        I certainly think the European system is superior.

        However, it should be mentioned that if you are treated to a meal, you should automatically offer to tip, and insist on doing so if they try and dissuade you. It’s a very Japanese attitude.

        Finally, Americans don’t have the same kind of expectations regarding reciprocity when drinking/dining in a social situation. To accept payment from someone else is to show deference within the interpersonal status dynamic (like with a patron-client relatonship), while paying for the meal of every diner there will give you status (in our society, status is almost entirely related to money). Unless you’re just taking a single person out for a casual lunch or date, you would also be expected to tip to further reinforce the gesture.

        For instance, my father in law refuses to let me pay for anything when we go out because he wants to retain his status within the dynamic as well as considering his age and the fact that he is an MD.

        Drinks are the same Way. Men are expected to pay for the women entirely here. Male friends who are just drinking to relax are expected to pay for their own drinks unless an alternative plan is agreed on.

    • ChinaGirl

      I’m a Brit from Oxford and agree with what UncleNat had to say on the subject. With that said I prefer tipping far more to someone who gives you a personal hands on service such as hairdresser or massage therapist verses someone who takes your order and brings food to your table!

      • TMarius

        You don’t have to tip at cash registers ever. That’s 100% acceptable to never do.

        Most Americans will never do that in their lives.

  • Tom JustTom

    bbcamerica.com must be desperate for content

  • Json

    I’ve read that Americans find the British accent to be very classy and authoritative, which certainly seems true. But I’ve also heard that Brits find the American accent (especially southern) to be very friendly and comforting. Can any Brits confirm that?

    • Andrew

      Love the Southern accent. I also found I got a great reception in the South (the Carolinas & Georgia), although maybe that’s just the people generally…?

    • frozen01

      That’s certainly not the feedback I get. Most of the Brits I know don’t really think one way or the other about my accent… it just is (I have a slight periodic Southeastern accent, but they usually can’t tell – however, they do find my “Americanisms” cute). We don’t have a very good reputation across the pond, so some may even link the American accent with our stereotype.
      Regarding the Southern accent, especially thick ones, I doubt that is the perception any longer. Keep in mind how Southerners are portrayed on TV now… ultra-religious, uneducated (maybe even proudly ignorant), gun-happy, sometimes even homophobic or racist. Most Brits I know link a Southern accent to at least one of these attributes.

    • Sue

      I live near Atlanta. I love my southern friends! They don’t only sound friendly and comforting they are! They are sweet and hospitable and will do anything for you. They are Church going Christians and they could not be further from the portrayal frozen01 was talking about. Shame really. Any meetings at Church or at their homes? You can expect a lot of food :) I am from Manchester and after 20yrs, my accent is not going anywhere now. I STILL get asked q’s of origin and have found generally, people still warm to my accent. Some have mentioned I sound like the chick from “Hot in Cleveland” (Jane Leeves I think).

      • frozen01

        Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think most Southerners are at all like that (or I’d be condemning my own self in the process!)
        Most of the Brits I know are not expats, so they don’t have the benefit of knowing many Southerners.

  • Jen

    As an American, we don’t think the accent makes you smart. You just sound cool or cute, and we like it. Naïve and younger people might fall for that “Brits are all smart” fuss, but most of us know better.

    • frozen01

      Actually, I’ve sort of found it to be the opposite nowadays. Most young people have had things like anime and Doctor Who in their lives for a while now… they’re far more exposed to lands beyond the American shores than my generation or previous ones were, and know that “foreigners” are pretty much just like them.
      It’s actually my older friends, who should definitely know better, that think all Brits are smart and well-read.

  • GatorHan

    Trying to get out of a speeding ticket!

    • Andrew

      Yet to be pulled over. I’ve got a Colorado license, but I wonder about handing them my UK one first when the inevitable happens….

      • Alan Richardson

        Mmm. You didn’t have to surrender your UK license? Or you didn’t tell them you had one?

        • Andrew

          They knew I had one, but handing it over was never going to be an option. Anyway, they don’t require it.

          • TMarius

            Dude you could honestly just hide it. Unless they arrest you, they are not gonna look through the wallet.

  • nezbitthecat

    My mother (from Leicester) would trot out her posh accent when stopped by a cop. She would refer to him as “constable” and plead being unused to driving on the right, even though she’d lived in the US for over 40 years.

    • amy

      my grandma talks her way out of tickets all the time i think because we live in alabama and they have no idea what she is saying.

  • annashun1

    Don’t use it at a bar or on any bartender. You will get slow service because they expect that you won’t tip.

  • Lesley

    I usually say I don’t live here if someone is trying to sell me something I have no interest in. Works every time. Especially if you say you’re not a citizen :) Also I have used it to get appointments quicker saying that I have to go home soon and I’m not sure how long the trip will be. I know it’s bad, but for some reason it works. I think people assume I’m having to go back for some family issue and I never correct them. I would never use my family in that way. My daughter also puts on a stronger accent during job interviews and she has always been hired. We all have an ability to use what we have to get what we want, if it happens to be a Scottish accent, then I’m all for it. :)

  • EnglishRN

    As an Emergency Room Registered Nurse Working in Seattle, I have found the English Accent is very good for calming agitated and psychiatric patients

  • Maki

    I just met a guy from London who works at the local Subway shop and he once lived in Seattle and someone thought he was from New Jersey!!!! As an American girl who knows most regional British accents (though I can’t tell you where they’re at…just a general direction), that one baffles me. NJ?! Yes he lost his accent a tad, he says. He’s been here since ’03 so I spose it’s bound to happen but still! and I can pick up most general jokes on Britcoms about unintelligible accents. I’ve learned about the Yorkshire and Geordie accents, for example so it helps.

  • Angus

    Taking the Oregon driving test – having failed once (!), spent more time the second time discussing the different parts of the UK than I did driving… :-)

  • Vik

    I spend 4 months living in NYC last year, and I honestly lost count of the number of times a girl told me that my accent was hot within lthe first few weeks ! I went out there as a single batchelor on a work assignment in mid-town, and I came back with so many stories of girls that just threw themselves at me when hearing my London accent, that most of my friends have now booked vacations in NY this year ! That HAS to be top of the list for things that can get achieved with a posh ‘British’ accent.
    And just one other thing.. I dont think you can refer to the term ‘British accent’ as we have a lot of different accents here in Britian.. although I think I’d be hard pressed to define my accent.. I’m a Londoner, but even in London, there are a lot of different accents, ranging from cockney through to super posh. Let’s just refer to it as ‘The Queen’s english’.. now that, in a room full of American ladies, is like water to a bunch of thirsy animals in a desert – they all want some !!
    Great memories.. god bless America 😉

    • TMarius

      The other edge of the sword here is that you gotta realize you were expected to say some witty innuendo to them in response which would both affirm their perception of your intelligence and verify your interest.

      You’re expected to be very assertive and decisive, and not to hesitate in indicating your intent.

      Next time have an American buddy tutor you in American metropolitan courting practices.

  • Gary Geer

    I had a recent run-in with police, and they claimed that I had accelerated too briskly. Ok, fine, they may have had a point as I had left 40 foot long tire marks on the roadway that would have made even Jeremy Clarkson proud.
    Well, when the officer (who was rather put-off) approached my car, I gave him the “Oh… Is that not acceptable here?” After a fifteen minute chat about the differences between US and UK driving, I was let off with a chortle and a handshake.

  • awkward Englishman

    1st day in the US office I was in San Diego meeting a client team who were particularly ‘earth friendly’. A wasp landed on my plate during lunch outside and without thinking I picked up my knife and squashed it

    Audible gasps from clients. Awkward silence ensued. Err…what to do next…

    Only one thing for it. Bring out the phone and show them pictures of the queen from the jubilee celebrations on the river. I say the queen. It could have been just about any old lady from the distance I was standing at. But who cares. I’ve got royalty on my phone. Take that tree huggers. You’re not thinking about the dead wasp now are you…