Brits in America: How Surfing the Web is Different in the U.S.

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the Internet is an expat’s best friend. Not only does it provide incredibly convenient ways to ship packages back to your homeland or to catch TV shows you would otherwise miss, but—through social media and video chat services such as Skype—it also keeps you connected with friends and family in a way that would not previously have been possible. However, while utilizing these (and other) services, you will come to realize something not so surprising about the Internet: using it can sometimes be an altogether different experience once you move to the U.S.

By that, I don’t mean that the Internet runs a million times faster, or that websites come in 3D or anything like that. No, as with many U.S./U.K. differences, it’s the little things that stand out. Take, for instance, the little flag that sometimes accompanies a website’s language selection. When choosing the English language option on a U.S.-based website, don’t be too surprised to see stars and stripes sitting proudly beside the link. Naturally, Americans—the predominant users of the sites in question—are more likely to immediately recognize their own flag than that of Great Britain.

Speaking of languages, the difference between British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) soon becomes very noticeable online, as otherwise perfectly spelled words fall victim to the dreaded red squiggly line. That’s right, the AmE dictionary doesn’t take kindly to spellings such as “analyse,” “colour,” and “centre,” throwing the language nerds among us into a quandary over which spelling to use. My own tip is as follows: use the American spelling when addressing Americans; endure the red squiggly line at all other times.

Of course, spelling choices of this sort are completely off the table when an online application asks you for your date of birth. Whether you like it or not, internet forms—for a job application, email account, or anything in between—will require that you enter your D.O.B. using the standard U.S. format (mm/dd/yyyy). Thankfully, this section typically integrates a calendar widget, preventing certain trigger-happy Brits (me) from claiming they were born on the eighteenth month of the year. Such a claim, incidentally, can become the source of major suspicion among prospective employers—not that I would know, of course.

When you do get hired for a job, though, keep in mind that your wages will be paid not in pounds, but in dollars. When paying for something online, this currency difference is not typically an issue, since “dollars” is almost always the default currency setting on a U.S. website. But, if you are using sites such as Western Union to wire money to the U.K., for example, you will now need to account for the exchange rate when entering an amount in the “sender” form. Even if you could manually enter this amount using the U.K. currency, American computer keyboards do not feature the pound (£) sign.

In fact, to make matters more confusing, the very key (Shift+3) that once incorporated the pound (£) sign on your U.K. keyboard, now houses the number (#) sign—also known to many Americans as (you guessed it) the “pound sign.” To have a pound (£) sign appear on your screen, you’ll need to type Option+3 (Mac users) or ALT+0163 if you have a numeric keypad (PC users). Meanwhile, Mac users will notice that certain keys, while performing the same function as before, are labelled differently. So, for instance, the Shift key is no longer represented by the shift (⇧) symbol, but by the word “shift” itself. Indeed, other Apple keys that have swapped symbols for the simplicity of their actual names on U.S. keyboards are tab (↹), caps lock (⇪), return (⏎), and delete (←)—keys that are particularly useful when shortcutting your way around the Internet.

And so, if any of these differences should compel you to curse at your screen or throw your computer out of the window, just remember what I said at the start: the Internet—while occasionally difficult to get along with—is your best friend. Be kind to it.

See more:
#MindTheChat: Which TV Shows, Movies Are Streaming on Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon?
Tips for British Writers: How to Make It as a Freelancer in the U.S.
12 Essential Websites for British Expats in America