How To Apologise to a Tree and Other Ways to be British

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 🙂

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37 thoughts on “How To Apologise to a Tree and Other Ways to be British

  1. Amanda Ricks

    Brilliant post! I am British, yes a true Brit born in London. I now live in Canada and everything you say can also be applied to Canadians as well. I particularly love your Language interpretation chart, it’s perfect. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you liked the post and thanks for reblogging! I’ve heard that Canadians are similar to Brits in a lot of ways and I can’t wait to go to Canada to find out 🙂

      1. Amanda Ricks

        Canadians are more like Americans than Brits. Although Canadians tend to be known as quieter and more like peace-makers. 🙂 I think you would still like Canada.

      2. Amanda Ricks

        It’s a 5 hour road trip for me as well to Montreal. I warn you Montreal is very different from the rest of Canada. It is very French (I hope you speak french).

  2. Amanda Ricks

    Reblogged this on Surprising lives and commented:
    Yes, I am British by birth and admittedly proud to say so. Although I have now lived in Canada for quite a few decades I still regard myself as British first.
    When I came upon this post I couldn’t help but be thrilled. I was able to relate so well to all of the points made and laughed out loud at the language interpreter. I really hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I did.

  3. Does this mean that when I praise your blog to others it makes you cringe? Should I stop? Hmm, no I won’t…so keep working on that confidence! (Although a bit of self-deprecating humor beats pure vanity any day!)

    That chart will come in handy for me. I say exactly what I feel and what I mean, and I always assume that others do, too. I should listen a bit closer… 😉

    1. Its definitely much worse in person, I really cant deal with any sort of praise in person at all! I emailed the chart to some of my coworkers so they can understand me haha!

  4. This is fantastic – as someone with a British mum, having grown up with British comedy as my far worthier companion than US comedy i can completely relate on so many levels and it is just really well written and fun. There should definitely be a sequel that involves national sport and pubs and weird-named foods…

    Keep on
    love brett fish

  5. I think you missed the (I think) very British, complaining about something to the person you’re with, but when asked saying everything is “fine”. *Laughs* for example in restaurants! And queuing! 😀

  6. Bacon, you forgot Bacon. Whenever I am in the US I am always searching for proper back bacon instead of that fatty streaky American excuse for Bacon. And I won’t even mention Marmite!

    Nice blogging there!

  7. Reblogged this on Old England to New England and commented:

    I was looking at my blog this evening and I realised that I’d written 99 posts. To reach the landmark of my first century I have decided to repost my favourite blog post so far as I have gained a lot of new readers and followers since I posted it 6 months ago. I hope you like it!

    Thank you to all my readers, you make writing this blog so enjoyable. 🙂

    1. Excuse me, I really am sorry to answer for you Tom, as I read the comments, but the statement “available on import in the U.S.” can be translated to mean “they are being imported and are available.” By “on import” he means that some stores are receiving them as imports. I’m a fan of your blog (don’t be mad!) and I am also an American who has lived in the UK. Such funny stuff because so much of it is true! Well, I cannot agree with the back bacon or the beans in tomato sauce though. I love my Bush’s baked beans in smokey barbecue sauce so much better, and I could eat a delicious BLT every day of the week! Actually, just forget L and the T and give me that streaky bacon! Lol

      1. Yeah that is what I meant, no need to apologise! I keep meaning to try the Bush’s baked beans but haven’t got round to it yet. As an American who has lived in the UK I’m sure you have dealt with many of these British characteristics. 🙂

  8. Love it. Glad you reposted, brilliant idea 🙂 As an American expat, I run into you Brits – A LOT. Something about escaping and/or being in the sun.

    In any case, at my latest workplace in Cambodia, I’m surrounded by you folks, even our listening activities for the students are in British English. (Also annoying Australian voices, too. Shhhhh.) Arggggg! Run away! Run away!

    I often take the piss out of them because: a) Brits like to take the piss out of _________ b) Your god loves to “piss down” on you and c) it’s just fun – yeah.

    xxoo

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! I often get asked if I’m Australian here when I don’t sound anything like Australian, but I can deal. Taking the piss is a very old and very cherished British institution, I’m glad you do it too! 🙂

  9. I’m glad you reposted. That’s not bad. 🙂

    I thought I was mostly German with a tinge of Irish, but as I cannot accept praise, constantly tell idiots their ideas are “brave/interesting,” and miss the rain so much I cry sometimes, I am clearly British. I shall search out a bulldog, posthaste. And name him Winston.

    I did not see any mention of tea in this post of Britishisms. Clearly I was reading too fast and somehow missed it. All my fault, undoubtedly, but I have some suggestions…

    British beans must be extra special. Because American baked beans on toast would only be acceptable fare for bomb shelters.

    1. Haha you must have some British blood in you if you are like that. I feel like I have wronged my nation for not including tea, maybe I’ll have to do a follow up! British baked beans are very different to the American ones I’ve tried so far, the bomb shelter comment made me laugh! 🙂

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