5 Strange Things That Happen to Brits in America

Don't be surprised if someone starts singing to you in a cockney accent. (Disney)

Don’t be surprised if someone starts singing to you in a cockney accent. (Disney)

You know you’re going to stand out a little as a Brit in the U.S., what with the funny accent and the strange culinary tastes, but sometimes it’s difficult to anticipate what else might happen….

1. Being imitated by complete strangers
It’s one thing for friends and co-workers to morph into Dick van Dyke whenever you’re around (although on second thought, knock it off people), but quite another for complete strangers to do so. And yet it happens quite frequently. My last time was in a department store, buying shoes with my mother. Taking the left shoe from me, the (previously American) sales assistant launched into the strangest gender-bending impersonation of Her Majesty as he vanished into the stock room. My mother stared in disbelief, especially when he returned with my size shoe and continued his performance. I would honestly love to know what he thought he was doing.

2. Being credited with a Mensa I.Q.
We’ve discussed this many times at Mind the Gap, but many Americans assume knowledge and intelligence in Brits that isn’t always there. You can keep this charade going even longer if you quote little known British authors, recent U.K. poll results or events from your British past to bolster your tales. Unless you have a fairly broad regional accent, most Americans only hear a “Briddish” accent, unlike Brits themselves who recently voted the Scouse (Liverpool) accent as sounding the least intelligent in the U.K. (Sorry Scousers.)

3. Being forgiven for swearing
Americans generally think our curse words are funny or quaint, if they understand them at all. My favorite word is a mild “sodding” used as an adjective (as in “Where are my sodding keys?”), which I can get away with easily since it’s lost on most Americans. Even words we probably wouldn’t say in the U.K. don’t cause as much offense here—except the C word. It is far more offensive here, and I’d warn fans and habitués against using it until you know your audience.

4. Being asked to speak publicly
I can’t count the times I’ve been handed a memo just before a meeting, with the plea “You read it out. You always sound like you know what you’re talking about.” Whether it’s speaking in corporate meetings, parent volunteer situations or just telling anecdotes in a social gathering, Americans appear to love the British delivery. Obviously tied to the fake I.Q. mentioned above, and if you’re a shy person, you’re going to have to come up with some pretty strong defenses.

5. Being made to repeat everything
You’re half way through saying something and you see “the look” in the American’s eyes. Two-thirds of the way through your point, she often starts smiling. When you finish, she doesn’t respond, then shakes her head slightly and says, “I’m sorry what? I was so busy listening to your accent I didn’t get all of that.” Brits soon learn to assess this situation and stop talking until the listener has returned from the reverie. “The look” can also occur when Brits speak too quickly; it represents confusion or panic rather than pleasure in your accent. You learn early on that slow and steady wins the race, or in this case, makes Brits understandable.

Join @MindTheGap_BBCA on Twitter Wednesday, February 19 at 2 pm ET (11 am PT) using hashtag #MindTheChat to share your bizarre U.S. stories, British expats. Participants could win Sherlock Season 3 on DVD.

See more:
10 Things British Expats Will Miss About the U.K.
10 Ways To Find Other British Expats Near You
8 Instances When You Should Play Up Your Britishness in America