A while ago I wrote How to Not Look Like an Idiot in America, a slightly silly guide to how not to embarrass yourself as a Brit in the US. It was a long time ago but I’ve finally got around to writing a second part based on more things that I’ve embarrassed myself doing since. If you are a Brit living in the US you might just find this relevant.
1. As a Brit in America people will often do a fake impression of my accent and they invariably always sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (in other words, terrible). It is extra funny because my accent is really, really far from Cockney but that is the only impression that people ever try. If this happens to you, remember that your fake American accent is probably as bad as their fake accent so take the moral high ground and don’t do it! The only fake US accent I can do is ‘southern’ and includes ‘I do declare’ every time and I need to learn that it is just as bad as the fake Cockney accents.
2. People are often very polite in the US and when you are awkward like me it’s easy to instinctively respond without thinking. I always struggle to work out when a reply to a pleasantry is expected and when it isn’t. Last time I flew home to the UK the gate agent at the airport said “have a good flight” and without thinking I responded “thanks, you too.” Don’t do it, think before you reply or pretend that you didn’t understand as a desperate last resort.
3. If you are from a country where you drive on the proper side of the road try and forget your instincts. The amount of times when I’ve been a passenger and got into the driver’s side of the car is just embarrassing. Not to mention all the times I’ve looked the wrong way and nearly been hit by a car when crossing the road. Over two years and I still haven’t got used to it yet! Also don’t drive on the wrong side of the road, that is never good news.
4. Language is a wonderful thing and there will probably be words that aren’t rude in US English but are rude/funny to you. If you find these amusing save them until you are around compatriots because if you have a laughing fit about a word like ‘tosser’ in front of Americans they will just think you are weird. My favourite examples are a display in a shop saying ‘great shags’ (rugs) and a place called The Knob which had plenty of signs that I may have posed in front of. If you think that I’m buying a t-shirt saying visit the knob you’ve got another thing coming!
5. I’ve learnt that many British TV shows made their way to America including some really bizarre ones like Keeping Up Appearances which people will often mention having seen. It’s really surprising what made it across the Atlantic when some real greats like Only Fools and Horses and Morse never crossed over. Once you learn this you will learn not to drop foreign pop culture references because nobody understands them and having to explain them takes away all the fun.
6. Related to the previous point is never admit ignorance to American popular culture because people really won’t get that you don’t know what SNL is (I thought it was some kind of illness) or that you have never seen an episode of Cheers. It’s far easier to nod knowingly when someone brings up some pop culture reference that you’ve never heard of or you will never have any peace or quiet!
Do you agree with this post or do you think I missed out on something important? Let me know!