As a Brit living in the US I’m often informed by Americans that they have British roots and although some claims to Britishness are rather dubious (my grandmother had a bulldog springs to mind) many of these stories are undoubtedly true given the relationship between our nations and how the US was founded. I would like to point out, however, that having a British passport or being descended from British people is not the only way to feel British. For some bizarre reason many Americans I’ve met have expressed affection for people from our small group of islands so here is my handy guide to help you make your life that bit more British.
1. Apologise for everything. We Brits just love saying sorry for things, even if it wasn’t our fault to begin with. I’ve been in conversations with Americans where they’ve said “stop apologising” and the first response that comes out before I can stop myself is to say “sorry”. I’ve apologised to objects that I’ve inadvertently walked into before, like trees and doors and it doesn’t even feel ridiculous to do so. In fact, if you’ve watched Lord of the Rings you will realise it is only polite to apologise to a tree. Next time somebody stands on your feet on your overcrowded commuter train, apologise to them for the inconvenience and you will feel that little bit more British.
2. Be polite at all costs. Nothing is worse than the horror of appearing rude to someone or making someone feel that you don’t like them (even if you don’t) and the best way to deal with this is to never say what you actually mean. If you awkwardly bump into an ex friend or colleague while out shopping then you can say something like “We should go for a beer sometime” even if you’d rather down a vial of mercury than spend social time with them, it’s just being polite. The funny table below has been around for a while and was allegedly created to help foreign employees understand their polite British colleagues.
|WHAT THE BRITISH SAY||WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN||WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND|
|I hear what you say||I disagree and do not want to discuss it further||He accepts my point of view|
|With the greatest respect||You are an idiot||He is listening to me|
|That’s not bad||That’s good||That’s poor|
|That is a very brave proposal||You are insane||He thinks I have courage|
|Quite good||A bit disappointing||Quite good|
|I would suggest||Do it or be prepared to justify yourself||Think about the idea, but do what you like|
|Oh, incidentally/ by the way||The primary purpose of our discussion is||That is not very important|
|I was a bit disappointed that||I am annoyed that||It doesn’t really matter|
|Very interesting||That is clearly nonsense||They are impressed|
|I’ll bear it in mind||I’ve forgotten it already||They will probably do it|
|I’m sure it’s my fault||It’s your fault||Why do they think it was their fault?|
|You must come for dinner||It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite||I will get an invitation soon|
|I almost agree||I don’t agree at all||He’s not far from agreement|
|I only have a few minor comments||Please rewrite completely||He has found a few typos|
3. Be as self-deprecating as possible. While Americans are often admirably confident, we Brits will often put ourselves down as much as possible so that we don’t appear arrogant or cocky. “I made you some cookies, they’re probably not very good” would be a good example. The downside to this self -deprecation is that we are poor at dealing with praise; every time someone says something nice about me in front of an audience I wish the earth would swallow me up. I’m trying to make myself appear more confident now that I’m living in the US but I’d find it much easier if you guys would meet me in the middle!
4. Secretly enjoy the weather. Although the weather in the UK is pretty unremarkable (it rarely gets very cold or very hot) everyone in the world knows how wet it is because we are so keen on talking about it. If I had a dollar for every time an American said “I bet you don’t miss the rain” I’d be a very wealthy man. But here’s the thing; I do miss the rain. Last week there was a downpour just as I finished work and as I legged it (ran) towards the train station with a colleague who also had no raincoat I realised I felt alive (and soaked). There is something strangely comforting about slate grey Victorian skies and until I left the UK I didn’t realise how much I missed the rain. Next time it rains, think about not changing your plans because it always rains anyway and you will begin to understand the British mind set.
5. Accept that beans on toast are a superfood. There is probably nothing more British than eating beans on toast and we have good reasons for doing so. It’s a quick meal if you are in a rush, it’s easy to make if you are feeling under the weather and even if you are the most inept cook in the world you can’t fuck up beans on toast. The beans also (allegedly) count as one of your five a day portions of fruit and veg so beans on toast is not just a convenience option, it’s health food too. Until you have a tin of baked beans in your pantry you can’t begin to consider yourself British I’m afraid.
What do you make of my list, did I leave anything important out? As always, I value all the comments I get on my posts 🙂