10 Things Americans Do That Drive Brits Crazy

I came across this short article today at BBCAmerica on the 10 things that annoy Americans about British people.  It’s written by a Brit living in the land of the Yanks.  As an American expat living in the land of the Queen, I feel I’m now enough of a cultural insider to do my own list.

10 Things That Annoy Britons about Americans.

  1. Your Volume.  You are sitting on the Underground flicking through your photos from your day of tourism and guffawing at how that guard really didn’t move as you licked his cheek, when you notice that no one else is talking.  That’s not just an off day for your fellow travelers, it is how they travel.  The aim is to try to avoid unwanted human interaction wherever possible.  They are avoiding eye contact with you, not because they can’t hear you, but because they are plotting how to silence you without getting arrested.  Note: if you are an American who finds another American loud, the Brits will feel like said “loud American” is screaming their conversation across the Mississippi River….during a tornado.
  1. The World Series.  Britons everywhere are emphatically stating their “Yes’s” as they read this– but not if they are on public transport, because that’s not acceptable.  Even though the Brits don’t have a baseball team to speak of, they take real issue that Americans call it The World Series and yet the only other country represented is Canada – barely.  And don’t even get them started on football.
  1. Giving kids false hope.  If Britons know how to do anything well it is to aim for just below average – if you then excel then you get the  joy of being pleasantly surprised – but you must then take great measures not to be too pleased because then people will either a) interpret your joy as arrogance or b) ask you to do more.  Why must Americans look little Jimmy in the eye and tell him that he can be a doctor or the President, when he swears that swallowing a quarter will make him poop dollar bills?  Jimmy is clearly heading towards some kind of career in sewage; if he excels and instead becomes an unhygienic accountant then you can celebrate.
  1. Say you’re going to Europe when visiting the United Kingdom.  Do not EVER make this mistake.  If customs gets word that you’ve breathed the phrase “I’m going to Europe,” when you are, in fact, visiting London, they will usher you into that 4×7 box room and make you confess things that you didn’t even know you’d done.  Britons make quite a lot of effort to make it clear that they are not European in any way, shape or outfit.  Watch Eurovision and you’ll understand. Geographically correct – yes.  Socially acceptable – no.
  1. Pronounce/spell things wrong.  Say Leicestershire.  Do it.   No, say it out loud (but see #1 first).  Did it sound something like this?  Le-cest-er-shy-er?  Uuuuh!  Wrong.  That’s clearly pronounced Lester-shur.  And don’t make comments about their “funny English.”  Sure they throw in random “u’s” and completely forget to pronounce certain letters, but the key word there is ENGLISH and they’ll make sure you know about it.
  1. Wear white socks.  The Native and I play a game when we’re at the airport – Spot the American.  Without fail we always get it right and here’s why….It’s the white socks, fellas.  To Britons it screams geek and not in the cool, urban way.  If you’re going to wear white socks, at the very least, try to hide them – don’t put them on show by pulling them up to your mid-calf.
  1. Using irony incorrectly.  It’s not that you can’t be ironic, but let me explain.  Brodie sits down at his desk and starts moaning about how even though he left for work 30 minutes early today, he was still late and his colleague Brad says, “That’s so ironic.”  No.  No, it’s not Brad.  It’s a bad start to Brodie’s day, yes.  It’s unfortunate, yes.  It’s annoying, yes.  But it’s not as annoying as you misconstruing that event for irony.  If Brodie’s job is that he is the Talking Clock – you know, the man who, when you call that number, tells you exactly what time it is? – and he’s constantly late to work because he never knows what time it is, that is ironic.
  1. Use a buttload of energy.  You get weather that reaches 80° and 90°F and you don’t hang clothes outside, but tumble dry them instead.  They’ll complain about the environment, about resources, about wastefulness but in their hearts they’re just really bitter that you can do anything in 80°F weather and choose not to when here summer peaks at a balmy 61°F.
  1. Sharing your feelings too openly.  When Britons sit down next to a new American friend on a flight and the friend starts crying about their dead hamster, Brits don’t want to sympathize, they want to run.  Your frankness and honesty has made them feel uncomfortable.   How in the world have you gotten through any wars?  Hasn’t anyone taught you about repression?  You bottle it up in a special place in the darkest corner of your heart until the emotion one day kills you.  What’s not to understand?
  1. Making everything showbiz.  The prime example is at a wedding reception of any John and Jane Doe. When it is time for the entrance of the wedding party, a spotlight zooms around, music plays and a DJ announces each usher, bridesmaids, and best man.  Quite often these people will wear sunglasses or do some kind of dance when they enter the reception hall.  Royal weddings are the place for the pomp, so just sneak into your reception and sit down at the top table quietly like the plebian you are, okay?

33 thoughts on “10 Things Americans Do That Drive Brits Crazy

  1. Recipe Junkie

    Oh yes – hilarious. You know us sooo well – how long have you lived here? Although, if it makes any difference, I used to work for a french family who insisted despite everything I told them that the river Thames was pronounced Tam-eez and not Tems

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Coming up on 8 whole years, so most of my adult life. I do have a massive gap in my knowledge when it comes to nostalgic British childhood things. And I love that – Tam-eez. I think I shall insist that it is called that, too.

  2. GRAMS

    When talking to the Judge today about my upcoming visit, he was telling me stories about when he was in the service stationed (clearly many, many years ago) in Swindon. In part of a story he explained how “loud” the Brits thought Americans were. Seems things haven’t changed in the last 3 decades.

    1. Jim5J

      Fascinating column you introduced me to, Grams. I’m a Brit living in southern USA and I’m also an American living in southern UK – so I hear both viewpoints. One American comment I get frequently, and I don’t really understand it, is: “You’re a Brit therefore you must be a Socialist.” In the UK my adult kids ask me: “How can you live in America, it’s such a dangerous country? Everyone has guns, don’t they?” Stereotypical. But I love both countries (and Canada too, also citizen there), love their similarities and differences, happy.

      1. Randall Robinson

        Yes, I’ve also perceived that British people regard America as a dangerous venue of violent death. The fear of firearms is indeed lame, overblown, and stereotypical. America is also a place where the winds of adversity include hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, droughts, heat waves over 100 degrees F, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, etc. It was true for pioneer settlers and is true for today’s inhabitants. This has shaped the American character from its seminal development by Scottish settlers, for while English settlers gave America some place names and some legal precedents, it was the Scots who formed the American attitude that other ethnic groups have, to varying degrees, blended with over time after their arrivals.

  3. Expat Mum

    Having lived 22 years in the States, I have to agree with a lot of this, but I think Brits need to chill a bit (see how American I sound?) about it all. So what if Americans wear white socks and butt ugly trainers/sneakers? And actually, English in Shakespeare’s time had no “U” in colour and theatre was spelled “theater”. It’s actually British English that has moved away from the root of the language, as is often the case.

    I read a really funny quote while writing on this subject a few years ago, and of course I can’t find it. Regarding Americans talking loudly – it’s because they don’t actually care if other people hear the conversation. But yes, it would be lovely if I could eat in a restaurant where the back of my chair wasn’t slammed against someone talking so loudly I can hear him/her outside on the street!

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Hahaha. Butt Ugly Trainers. Brilliant. And I had no idea about the spellings. The rumour has always been that when Webster’s dictionary was put together, he intentionally tried to spell some things differently to create a bit of separation from the Queen’s English. I’m sure there are things the Americans need to chill about as well. Although, I’ve been removed from it for so long, I’m not sure what they would be.

    2. May-Beth Delacourt

      Expat Mum has it over-simplified about ‘-our’, it seems: see the Online Etymological Dictionary under ‘-or’ for a fuller picture.

  4. Ana Gaby

    This is too funny! I wonder if other “Europeans” think the same way…. JK!!!!! I’ve learned to be more sensitive and keep my loud American and even louder Mexican in… Great article. Thanks for posting!

  5. scribblefingers

    I read the other article as well – and I must say yours hits home a lot more than the other one! loud Americans, the WORLD series – and I still despair over my dad who wears white socks with SANDALS!!

  6. applepiewithwensleydale

    Oh brilliant! May I add another one? Cheeky of me I know… but:

    11. Assuming that because you are from England you know the Queen, your cousin thrice removed who lives in Ireland, or someone you once worked with from a cute little place called Wales.

    Having said that I love America, and have family living there, I’m fairly sure that the flip side of the coin is that we make a lot of assumptions about our friends across the Atlantic.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Not cheeky at all. I don’t think most Americans realize how small the UK is either – which, I think, makes this assumption a bit weird, doesn’t it? Maybe they assume that if there can’t be many Americans there so they must stick out like a sore thumb.

  7. Grenglish

    HILARIOUS! Said without a trace of irony 😉
    Really love this post and found myself nodding at the first one especially. But, I like the last two points – don’t go changing those please!

  8. Deborah

    Okay I had to ask this… what color socks do British people wear? Are you talking about with jeans, shorts, dress pants? Also there are MANY Americans out there who also do not like it when people pull their socks of any color up to their mid calf. 🙂 It was funny to read this and hear their impressions about us. I can understand how some would be annoying. Just curious, have you found after 8 years you are starting to identify more with Britons then Americans?

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      They wear dark socks with pretty much everything. I take your point about pulled up white socks – tends to be men of a certain age, doesn’t it? I don’t really associate myself with one more than the other. I tend to just love the bits that make each country great and laugh at the bits that make each country quirky.

  9. Dorothy Dalton

    Really funny! I’m a long term British expat living in Europe so like to feel by now I am a bit more more neutral. But perhaps not!

    I was reminded of a time in Boston while in a queue (line) for the loo (rest room) and the woman next to me (total stranger!) shared with me the contraceptive options preferred by her husband. Even I was taken aback and din’t know what to say. Muttered something inane. Can’t take the Brit out of a Brit!

    As Shaw said 2 peoples separated by a common language! But fun nevertheless!

    If we were all the same life would be dull!

    You should do a reverse analysis!

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  11. Rachel

    Not sure from where you are from in the States. I am from the Mid-Atlantic area and cannot relate to most of your list. While I completely agree that most Americans are loud (myself included), I have never been to a wedding like you described (and I would be taken aback if I did). In regards to offering children hope and belief, it seems far more jaded of a culture to beat kids down before they even start. Gray socks – don’t get, don’t like it. Last I checked the UK is part of the European continent, whether Brits like it or not. I say all of this having lived with a Brit for 13 years (yes, he wears gray socks) and having made many trips to the UK.

  12. Just Myself

    I’ve lived in the States for the better part of my life, but I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever worn white socks. Ever. I can’t say I’ve really worn dark socks either. I tend to wear brightly coloured socks- electric blues, oranges, pinks, yellows, et cetera. And they don’t tend to match. Does that make me any less of an American? I would have never guessed.

    And on the subject of us being overly loud, I suppose I can agree for the most part. Or perhaps we’re merely overly deaf… I’m a naturally soft spoken person, slow to state my opinions, and I’ve actually had people get angry at me because I don’t speak up and tell people what I’m thinking. Is it so terrible that I reserve my opinions for myself?

    One thing I’d like to add is that we don’t really have a concept of foreign accents. My family has moved a lot, so I suppose my mannerisms are a touch odd to natives, but as I said, I’ve been State-side the majority of my life. I’ve had people tell me I sound English, when I know for a fact I have a Midwest accent. If you use a phrase people aren’t comfortable with, or pronounce a word differently ( I have a terrible habit of saying hoom instead of home) we automatically assume that you’re a foreigner, whether or not you really are. And odds are, we’re going to say you sound English, because that’s apparently the only accent we know…

    Anyway, I love my country, I just wish we could be a touch less… exuberant. But I suppose we wouldn’t be American, than, would we?

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Thanks for sharing! Yes – these are, of course, all generalizations and just in good fun, but some of them prove to be more accurate than others.

      I love things (and really dislike other things) about both countries.

  13. merciacrops

    The Leicestershire one isn’t confined to Americans. I’ve had native Brits tell me about ‘wook-ester-sheer’ (Worcestershire – ‘wustersheer’) – until then, I thought it was only Americans that pronounced it wrong! (Worcestershire sauce being Worcestershire’s contribution to the world and all…).

  14. Anne

    Native Floridian here…loved reading this! I have to say it sounds about right to me. I appreciate you leaving out the “fat American” comments 🙂

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  16. headinablender

    My wife is American (from Vegas actually) and I’m English.
    Currently we live in good ol’ sunny Blighty, but next year we’re making the move and I can’t wait.

    I have to say, I love your list. It’s all true, ESPECIALLY the ones about irony and tumbledrying clothes. In Vegas it reaches ridiculous temperatures and yet they STILL tumble dry their clothes!
    In the Nevada sunshine their clothes would be dry before they’ve finished hanging out the clothes on a line. There would be a ‘Shhhhhh’ sound as the water is evaporated instantly.

    Apparently tumbledrying their clothes removes the need to iron them. It seems Americans avoid irony in both senses of the word.

    Great article.


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