Meanwhile, Back in the U.K.: What Longtime Brits in America Have Missed

UGGs (ugh), streaky spray tans, and excess in 'Essex.' Aren't you glad you missed this, veteran expats? (Photo via Hulu)

UGGs (ugh), streaky spray tans, and excess in ‘Essex.’ Aren’t you glad you missed this, veteran expats? (Photo via Hulu)

There’s a direct correlation between how long you’ve been here and how in touch you are with things back in Blighty. I’ve been here over 20 years, am lucky enough to go back at least once a year for an extended period, am probably in regular touch with more Brits than Americans, and follow British news and politics fairly closely. However, I’m well aware that a few British trends have still totally passed me by.

Words and the like
When I left the U.K., the word “pants” referred solely to underwear and was never used to show disapproval of something, A very popular word in the late 1990s and 2000s, people, songs, political strategies, and entire football teams can be “pants.” (Point of interest—despite some research on my part, I have yet to find a convincing etymology of this word. World Wide Words is perhaps the closest, suggesting that if something is “pants,” it resembles a pile of underpants.) 

Possibly the area where an expat is most likely to feel at sea. While you can turn on Coronation Street after three years and pretty much pick up where you left off, most of the people doing the ads will be nothing more than shiny, perky Brits to you. Comments such as “I can’t believe she’s reduced to advertising washing powder” will be lost on you having never seen “her” in her short-lived hey day.

Now, the big names include Ant & Dec, Holly Willoughby, Tamara Ecclestone, One Direction (individually named) and the cast members of TOWIE (The Only Way is Essex), Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea. (NOTE: you can catch up on the latest episodes of both Corrie and TOWIE on Hulu these days.)

Eating out
Without a doubt, one of the biggest changes in recent decades is in the food available in pubs and restaurants. Back in the day, the word gastro-pub was more often a suggestion of the gastrointestinal problems you could get from a pub meal since most pubs just weren’t into serving food.

Now? Oh my. Many are top class and on a par with award-winning restaurants. Similarly the range of food available has widened from just Indian, Italian, French and Chinese to Mexican, Thai, Korean—you name it. A quick trip round the aisles of most big supermarkets is also a pleasant surprise. Along with your Mother’s Pride loaf, you’ll find a range of breads from around the globe (not literally) and similar varieties in many of the food aisles.

If you haven’t eaten out in the U.K. in a while, you won’t have seen tableside ordering and payment, which is still a novelty in the U.S. Your server punches your order straight into a hand-held device and transmits it straight to the kitchen. (This is said to cut down on errors and speed up service, but the term speed is all relative here.) More importantly, when it comes to payment, your credit card never leaves your sight as the hand-held device also processes your card details.

Your hometown
If you’ve been away from “home” for more than a decade, chances are you get a bit discombobulated when you go back. From the gleaming Quayside to the re-directed A1, Tyneside/Newcastle is virtually unrecognizable from when I lived there and many other industrial cities have been similarly gussied up. Getting lost while trying to drive from A to B used to be a foregone conclusion. Thank goodness for GPS—or “sat-nav”, as they say over there.

What are the greatest British developments in the past few years that longterm expats may have missed (or thankfully escaped)? Tell us below:

See more:
Six Ways U.S. Supermarkets Differ From British Ones
8 British Inside Jokes Americans Will Never Understand
10 British Smells You’ll Miss When You Leave the U.K.


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • gn

    When my mother used “shower” in an email to me, I had to look it up. :)

    • Kev

      The whole Chav phenomenon passed me by, and I had to do a bit of research to figure that one out

    • Mjhmjh

      I presume you’re not talking about those devices in British bathrooms that will occasionally deign to share a trickle of running water with you. So… do you mean its use in a negative expression such as ” That lot are a right shower!” ? If not, then I’m even more out of touch because I still don’t know what it means! Do please tell. (If it’s suitable to post here, of course. But since your mother used it, I presume that it is…… :-))

  • Mjhmjh

    I’ve noticed that many words and expressions that I still think of as Americanisms are now used in England, too. (eg “I guess” which seems almost entirely to have replaced “I suppose” – on the Beeb, anyway.) I think the internet has blurred the linguistic boundaries quite a lot.

    When I left England, people leaving a Pay-and-Display car park long before their money had run out would often offer their ticket to someone who’d just arrived, or leave it on the machine. In the south-east, at least, councils have put an end to that benevolent dodge by installing ticket machines which require you to key in some of the digits from your number plate.

    I don’t think Costa Coffee even existed when I moved to the USA, but nowadays, in my former corner of England, you can scarcely move without seeing one. (To my astonishment, even the refreshments trolley in the lobby of our local hospital was Costa Coffee!) They’re a chain of cafés – in the Starbucks vein, but a bit cheaper. In my non-expert opinion, though, their coffee tastes terrible!