10 American Sounds Brits Will Learn to Appreciate

"Ohh, he's so cute. AND helpful." Be warned, don't try and play with raccoons. (Thrifty Fun)

“Ohh, he’s so cute. AND helpful.” Be warned, don’t try and play with raccoons. (Thrifty Fun)

Open your ears and take in America’s distinctive hum, from the honking cars to the whooping at football games. Very soon, you’ll come to like—or at least understand—what you’re hearing.

Whooping at sporting events
At first this celebratory vocalization—somewhere between ululating and honking—will drive you nuts. Eventually, you might develop an appreciation for the unadulterated enthusiasm this all-American noise represents. Just try not to catch a whoop directly in the ear.

Football armor colliding with other football armor
When NFL players do the thing that looks like a group hug with the pushing and the grunting, their shoulder pads bump and make a distinctive, satisfying crashing sound. At least—full disclosure here—this is what people I know who actually watch American football tell me happens.

Honking, braking and swerving cars
In big U.S. cities, drivers are impatient, impertinent maniacs. They think emergency braking is regular braking and they smack their horn just because it’s there. Initially, this behavior, and the resulting sounds, are at annoying and mildly terrifying. But bad driving noise soon becomes a familiar backdrop to urban American life.

Shouting orders in restaurants
The sound of servers delivering Americans’ overcomplicated food and beverage orders to kitchen staff is an audio experience to behold: Fast and loud with menu items and cooking preferences abbreviated to single syllables.

Specifically, raccoons ferreting about in the garden—snarling, purring and chittering—then knocking over your bins in their search for anything edible. They’re bolder, louder intruders than British foxes, who tend to take a stealthier approach to dismantling your trash.

Emergency service sirens
Although they vary from state to state, the reliably terrifying whirring and screeching of American police cars, ambulances and fire trucks is more aggressive sounding than the U.K. equivalent. You won’t persuade yourself to find these noises pleasant, but eventually you’ll startle less (jumping a mere couple of feet in the air as opposed to the usual 10) when you hear a U.S. siren.

Wind through tall palms
Coastal, palm lined parts of the U.S. have a specific sound. Above the seaside bustle, there’s the undulating whir and gentle rustle of the breeze whipping past these tropical trees. Just lovely.

Car seatbelt alarms
Forget to put on your belt in a modern American car and there’s that familiar, slightly muted “bong bong bong.” The noise seems to cut across car types and, though irritating, it’s manageable when you realize it’s there for good reason, and might actually prevent you from ending up as person pate in a crash.

Cicadas singing
That near-constant clicking sound you hear in summer all over the US is male cicadas calling out for a mate at volume – up to 120 decibels per beast, depending on species. When they click en masse—one critter seemingly spurring on his friends—the noise will drown out anything else in the vicinity.

NPR: the shows, the pledge drives, the presenters
If you were a Radio 4 person back home, chances are you’ve switched over to America’s National Public Radio. You’ll come to relish the Harvard-dry hosts, staple shows (Morning Edition, Car Talk, This American Life) and even the endlessly earnest requests for your cash, which allows NPR to continue providing the soundtrack to your American life.

See more:
10 British Sounds You’ll Miss When You Leave the UK
8 All-American Pastimes Brits Could Learn to Love
10 American Foods Brits Will Learn to Love

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.
  • expatmum

    Yes, those cicadas are very loud! Sometimes you think you don’t notice them, until they pause for a while and you feel your shoulders go back down about 4 inches!

  • expatmum

    Oh and the American sound that I still have a hard time with – loud forced air or heat. Ours is so loud we have to turn the TV volume up a notch when it comes on.

  • Billie

    The sound cicadas make is fascinating. The way they hum in unison, first quietly and then loader and loader until they reach a crescendo that sounds almost electrical, like a power transformer. Then they mysteriously fall silent for a while before doing it all over again. With this seemingly unending frigid winter weather I look forward to hearing the cicadas again. Cicadas = summer.

    • bob

      Try having 13 big trees i your yard and the neighbor has the same amount then get this deafening noise from these its no fun you might like it but its annoying when your trying to sleep

      • Thor

        haha you took my name :)

  • MontanaRed

    Loved the phrase “person pâté” (full disclosure re the added diacritical marks: I majored in French at university). I know I will use that in conversation some time.
    Have you heard raccoons fighting? Most unholy noise imaginable, especially right outside one’s bedroom window. I can’t see ever becoming used to it.

  • Inari

    The noise I grew to love was the trains honking their horns at all level crossings. When there’s a road that crosses the railway every few yards and the trains go at all hours… 😀

  • lexi

    i hate cicadas >.<

  • frozen01

    “Wind through tall palms”

    Oh, man, that got me right in the hurts. I grew up in Florida and haven’t seen a palm tree outside of a mall food court in years :( I miss that sound so much!

  • smmoulder

    Honking, braking and swerving cars – Only new if the Brit has never been on the Continent.

    • Angie Poole

      I have never heard horn honking and seen more impatient driving than in Israel, Egypt and Romania. It made me glad to be in LA, which felt like a peaceful calm compared to the driving I’d seen elsewhere!

    • Steve

      The honking and swerving makes me think of the cabs in New York … and you have to match their aggression or they’ll constantly cut you off.

  • http://jeffontheair.wordpress.com Jeff

    Ruth, you can’t base all American’s behavior on Brooklyn/NYC behavior. Not all drivers are impatient, rude and reckless. And we don’t all shout our restaurant orders like we’re Roman emperors. You should get out of Brooklyn and see the rest of America before stereotyping us. And I don’t even know what “whooping” is.

    • Sarah Coleman

      I think she is talking about diner cant, the type waitresses use to make a short order. You’re right, it’s not actually all that common. The sound I associate most with restaurants is the clink of utensils on plates and the general mummer of people having polite conversations.
      I live in the Chicago area, so yeah, I’ve seen some pretty aggressive driving; it isn’t the same everywhere, though.

    • K

      If they think US cities are bad, they should go to Bangalore, India. The honking never stops.

      • Thor

        we are not talking about terrible noises 😛

    • Regina M. Garcia

      I live in Mass. We have rotarys for a reason, we don’t like to stop. I don’t hear anyone shouting in a restaurant, not sure where that comes from, racoons, cicadas, wind in palms, sorry why are those exclusively American sounds. Football is just the best game ever and yelling at games is part of the fun. I’ve seen your soccer games, you’re just as bad. At least we don’t get into bleacher clearing brawls. Emergency sirens? I’ve heard the ones in the UK, those can be irritating if you’re not used to them, seat belt alarms? The Brits don’t have those? Let’s face it, the Brits think all Americans are rude, loud and aggressive but at least we have good teeth.

  • James Campbell

    “Shouting orders in restaurants” Where does this happen? In my 49 years I’ve never heard a waitress/waiter yell orders to the cooks.

    • Amanda

      Ever eaten at a Waffle House?

  • Patty

    Along with the cicadas, don’t forget the barking tree frogs – though, to me, it sounds more like a quack than a bark.

    • Tokumei Yamada

      It’s not the sound you need to worry about, though. It’s the smell.

  • Violette Retancourt

    Emergency vehicle sirens are supposed to be jarring – that’s the point. They’re telling you to get out of the way so they can get to the emergency.

    I had no idea there are no raccoons in England. Count yourselves lucky.

    • Mish Mosh

      Have you heard the racket foxes make? I rather put up with pesky raccoons than hear foxes howling like screaming women.

      • Steve

        We have both in NJ – though I’m not sure I’ve seen much evidence of the raccoons, the foxes are pretty noisy sometimes.

    • Swamp Mom

      I used to work in the field as a medic. If people heard the siren, that’s great. If people actually moved out of my way so I could get to said call, or the ER I was responding to, that was even better. Don’t forget the air horn that I normally had to use to get people to acknowledge my presence.
      I live in the Everglades. The bobcats sound like screaming women also, and hearing the panthers can be just as daunting.

      • Violette Retancourt

        Last month I neither saw nor heard a fire engine until it was RIGHT THERE. Left about $20 worth of tire rubber on the asphalt breaking for it. But after it turned onto the street and I was following it, I watched while no one else got out of the way. It actually had to pull into a southbound lane while travelling north to pass jerks who won’t pull over for emergency vehicles. IDGI.

  • Claire

    No interest in NPR, I’ve found them boring, pretentious, and shockingly uneducated-not to mention lacking in integrity.

    • Sarah Coleman

      Well, I’m sure NPR is just the author’s personal preference. There are several equivalents, maybe WVCY is a more conservative alternative. Sports talk radio seems like it would be pretty distinctly American. I’m sure they don’t get Rush Limbaugh in England, maybe Howard Stern. Personally, I listen to contemporary Christian music.

  • Juliet

    I do find it fascinating hearing about others experiences in other places, but as a native Washingtonian (the Pacific Northwest coast Washington – not the D.C. one), I can only relate to 2 of the items above as “American” sounds.That would be the seat belt alarm and the NPR fund drives. Everything else is as foreign to me as Greece. Familiar sounds here would be the sound of an espresso machine frothing up milk for some coffee or tea or the sound of a Puget Sound ferry horn announcing it’s dock arrival. Maybe even the crashing waves pounding the coast from California to Alaska. Also can’t forget the honking of Canadian Geese overhead (yeah…WATCH your head). I think the most overall “American” sounds would include clink of a baseball being driven into the crowd or the sound of fireworks being lit on either Independence Day or New Years. And the sizzling of a barbecue! I think it’s different wherever you go and you’ll almost always find a new sound to cherish 😉

    • Ken Hood

      I grew up in Oregon and now live in Northern California and agree with the only two items on the list that are familiar.

    • Jodi

      Makes me miss the pacific northwest! The sounds of the ferry reminds me of being a kid on Whidbey Island!!

  • Sarah Coleman

    I guess you can call the action “whooping” but the sound in usually more of a “Whooo!” I wonder which sporting events the author attended, as there are different ways to cheer for different sports. In baseball, for example, it’s common to harass the batter to distract him from hitting the ball. It can sound like, “Hey, batter-batter-batter, Hey!”

    • Angie Poole

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard that outside of movies and I’ve been to a lot of professional baseball games. The noises heard at professional sporting events are rather regional, as every fan base has a distinct personality.

      • Sarah Coleman

        I’ve heard it more at local events; probably imitating the movies, lol. Of course, in a big pro field I’m sure that batter can’t even hear taunts like that over the roar of the crowd.

  • Tokumei Yamada

    We don’t have cicadas here in so-cal. I was used to hearing them on Japanese animation, but never heard them myself until I moved to Asia.

    The level of car noise varies from place to place, but what pisses me off is the people who honk at the person in the front less than a second after a green light. It’s like, “How dare you look around to see if it’s safe to go! Your brain should turn off at a green light!”

    Oh, and we don’t shout orders here, either, at least not at sit down restaurants. What you’re describing is the traditional “diner”.

    • Thor

      unless it’s bdubs then you almost shout but i guess there changing that so it will be a lot better to order

  • Mish Mosh

    The Brits don’t have to go as far as America to hear cicadas. There are plenty of of them in Northern Spain.

  • Dean

    I’ve never heard most of these things, and no we don’t shout orders in restaurants. :)

  • Angela LaMunyon

    I think the problem with lists like this that try to generalize the US is that the US is really a large collection of very different cultures. You can’t generalize that much diversity, as is proven by the all the comments. Even regionally, you’re going to get a lot of differences.

  • Tylertlat

    “Honking, braking and swerving cars” This is a VERY regional. Go someplace where people actually know how to drive (like Michigan) and those noises mean someone’s about to crash.

  • Neighborhood watch

    Dogs howling because of emergency sirens. Mine start about a minute before they come down the road.

  • Wraps Callion

    You should hear the frogs in the swamps after a good rain. Awesome sound.

  • Jodi

    You really should try visiting more of the country so you can get an accurate view rather than stereotyping the entire country based on a very small area. This country is huge, you can not speak for the whole of us based on one tiny corner. America is not the UK, you can’t base your expectations of another country based on how your own country is. This article, like many others on this site is inaccurate, inflammatory, and stereotyping. I’ve never seen drivers like you describe nor have I ever heard yelling in restaurants in Colorado. But hey..if it happens back east that must mean the whole country is that way, right? I’ve never once had a racoon in my trash, elk or bears maybe, but never racoons. I could go on and on , but im sure you get the point.