Nine Random Things I Didn't Know About Living In America...
By: Claire Bolden(Full Title:) Nine Random Things I Didn't Know About Living In America Before I Moved Here And Am Not Sure If I Am Glad I Didn't, But Which Are Now Fairly Integral Things in My Life As A British Expat In The USA
- We really do speak a different language
The other day an American friend asked me how I was and I replied “I’m fine” and she asked me what was wrong.
“No really, I’m fine.”
“Yes, I’m good.”
She looked relieved. You see, no one in America says there are fine – because that does not mean the same as saying you are good, which is positive. If you are fine, it might mean you are not good, and hiding something, and you need to be asked why you are not good, or maybe you’re just being passive aggressive.
The language barrier rears its head in many amusing ways of mis-interpretation.
Take this conversation, started by an American friend:
“Did you have a good time on Saturday night?”
“Yes, I did thanks. I got a bit pissed though.”
“Oh no, what happened?” (Shock and horror on face)
“I had a couple of margaritas.”
“Oh!” (Laughter). “ You mean drunk?”
“Yes, otherwise I would say pissed off.”
Whilst my son has adjusted to calling trousers pants, there are some other phrases that I cannot bring myself to use. This particular phrase is also used by adult to adult, not just child to adult, and I just can’t get my head round it…..
For “I’ve just got to nip for a wee” (perfectly adequate British saying), they use instead “I gotta go potty / go pee-pee”. I can’t do this, sorry. I shall “nip for a wee” rather than “go pee-pee” every time (not right now, though, you understand). And don’t get me started on the use of “poopie”……. :)
- We certainly do have very different senses of humour / humor
In order to break the ice with some Americans I have been using the amusing British phrase ‘As the actress said to the Bishop’ in certain situations.
- Again, at gym class, whilst trying to pick up a big weight: ‘The big ones are always harder to hold.’ (Me: ‘As the actress said to the bishop’).
- During an evening out: ‘If it’s too hot to put in your mouth, waft it around a bit.’ (Me: ‘As the actress said to the bishop’).
And so on. You get the idea, I’m sure :)
Then I learned that the reason that I was getting very little reaction to my hilarious response, is that Americans don’t use this phrase and have, in fact, a phrase of their very own…..’That’s what she said.’
Now I do declare that the British and American senses of humour are very, very different. For example, we would not find Jimmy Kimmel funny, and they would not find Joe Pasquale funny….oh, hang on, neither do we…..let me try again…..Jack Dee?
Anyway, it is a cultural difference that will always exist, although there are exceptions to the rule in the form of Cheers (we like) and Monty Python (they like).
I decided to do my research into this new phrase, which did not initially strike me as very funny at all.
But, it actually is – but only if it’s said with the correct intonation and by the right person, who really, really means it in a rude way, just like we would really, really mean ours.
So, I was in a boxing class and I thought I would try it out….
We were told about the 30 second beep in boxing…. ‘The beep is there so you know the end is coming and you really have to put a last minute effort in to get to the end.’ (Me: ‘That’s what she said’)…..tumbleweed, stunned silence and….laughter! It works!!!!
And now I find it funny and I have used it again today, and I will always have it on the tip of my tongue (‘That’s what she said…..’) You knew that was coming didn’t you…..oh stop now!
- Americans just don’t swear like the Brits do
On American TV shows, I have noticed, the characters say ‘dammit’ a lot when they are frustrated or need to express something which would usually warrant a good old swear word.
It is very annoying hearing it all the time on TV shows because there seems to be no alternative to ‘dammit’ and when I tweeted about this annoyance an American tweeter replied, ‘But that is swearing!’.
No it f*cking isn’t, I replied, not by British standards! :)
And you can’t say ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’. That’s not done, unless you are being thankful for something (all in context of course).
Americans say things like ‘shoot’ and ‘darn’ – that’s ‘cussing’, that is.
I find myself being much more aware of my swearing in the presence of Americans, which can be a bit of a b*gger……
- Americans really do have excellent teeth and ours really are very, very bad
In the UK, we don’t pride ourselves on our teeth particularly. Not so in America-land. I spent two painful hours in the dentist’s chair being scraped, cleaned and sluiced on my first trip to a US dentist.
I was fully aware of the stigma that is attached to British teeth (not literally – it’s unsightly plaque that is literally attached to our teeth), and rightly so. Our smiles can be a sorry sight, and I do find myself looking at American’s teeth a lot and sighing inwardly at their white, straight, glossy perfection. No wonder they say ‘awesome’ a lot, because it opens up the mouth to share the teethypegs in all their wonderful glory (you tried it, didn’t you).
This is an image of British celebrities’ teeth before an American dentist got his hands on their chops. (click for larger)
I felt a little inadequate as I entered the dentist’s chair and spouted forth stuff about the NHS, how little we get to go to the dentist, drinking tea, etc.
They nodded (exchanged knowing glances) and were very sympathetic. After two hours in the chair, during which time I noted the radio station they were playing had a penchant for 80s soft rock and ballads, I felt wholesome and clean, like I wanted to don some pom-poms and cheer for the nearest football team.
But, blow me down, and thank the Lord for dental insurance, as I was presented with a bill for $547. That’s a lot of money for scraping, polishing and sluicing.
And now I am obsessed with looking at teeth of all the Americans I meet. They are most excellent and I have started rating them out of 100 (not 10 – that just didn’t seem high enough for such quality).
- Mealtimes are confusing and I blame Downton Abbey
American mealtime references have confused me and made me even more confused about British mealtimes…
In the UK mealtime references are based on your class or age, I think. I am not totally sure about this, but this is how I see it.
Breakfast – check, I think we all do the same thing.
Brunch – check, generally a Sunday thing (and I have experienced some most excellent brunches in the USA so far – in fact, I would say the USA Sunday brunch malarkey exceeds anything previously encountered in the UK – I mean, shrimp and grits – this is a whole bunch of awesomeness on a plate).
Lunch – now this is where it gets confusing, because some people call it lunch and some people call it dinner. I call it lunch….
Tea – in the UK this is either:
a) for kids at about 5pm-ish; or
b) for those who are a bit posh, or at boarding school, or fancy an afternoon snack and wish to label it as something else, so it doesn’t really seem like you are [God forbid] snacking – and it consists of scones / crumpet / muffins / cake etc; or
c) for them up North, and for this you can have a meal on your knee in front of the TV (I confess to being a tea person every now and then….hang on, does this make it a TV dinner….?) :)
Supper – this is, again, confusing. Supper is dinner / dinner is supper. It’s a meal, or is it a late night snack?
Now I’m confused. What do Americans call it all?
If I invite an American for tea, will they expect scones plated up on a three-layered tier with doilies and napkins and tea from a pot? I blame Downton Abbey for this expectation. Or, if they have a child in tow, do they realise it will be ‘kids’ tea’?
I am unsure what Americans understand our British mealtime references to be, and, therefore, what they would expect. And, I don’t do scones…..
- Americans do say AWESOME a lot
Having been in the USA for nearly seven months, I’ve had to adapt to lots of things, such as supermarket shopping (still spellbound), driving on the right and remembering the rules on the highway (or lack of them), using cents and dimes and pretending I can see which is which and add them up (which I am still useless at), and use of the American language.
I am using awesome a lot. And here’s why…..
You adapt. You have to. It makes your company feel more comfortable and it helps you to fit in, makes you part of something. Some people still react to my quaint English phrases and words like ‘bottom’ (I must clarify that I use this is class when stretching – ‘lift your bottoms’, and at no other time) and ‘cuppa’.
But adapt I must, and so the loo is restroom or bathroom, chips are fries and the car boot is trunk and so on.
An American chum told me: “One thing to remember: even the mildest approval must be described as “awesome” or else it’s seen as faint praise .i.e. ‘How was dinner last night?’ ‘Good.’ ‘You didn’t like it?’…..” There we are again – language!
Ain’t that just awesome? :)
- Paper boys on bikes belong in 80s movies
It is with great disappointment that I discovered that the newspapers that are thrown on to our drive way every other day are no longer delivered by a newspaper boy on a bike – you know that image that we have all seen in the movies of the young boy on his BMX chucking the paper on to the lawn…...
These days they are delivered by a man in a van who lobs them out the van window and they are wrapped in plastic to stop them getting wet. A movie image destroyed in one fell lob.
- Americans do ‘holidays’ much better than Brits
Halloween is officially a bloody brilliant holiday in the USA.
People do cool stuff to their houses, everyone is out trick or treating – it is not tiresome of awkward like in the UK. It is fun central, with a focus on community, being neighbourly and kids. Oh, and candy. I heard one radio station today ask if their listeners had ‘candy hangovers’.
I tried to explain to a group of four and five-year olds that we don’t celebrate Halloween really in the UK, but that we have BONFIRE NIGHT! Oooh, how exciting, I declared! Even the teacher looked bored as I explained what it was.
- Driving rules
Well, there really are no driving rules in the USA. We Brits like our motorways to have rules, where there is a fast lane, middle lane and slow lane. No such thing here!
For example, the exits and entrances on the highway/freeway are practically one in the same thing. The only rule is zig zag in/out and make your entrance/exit if you can by speeding up/slowing down.
The fast lane is non-existent – any lane is a fast lane, and sometimes cars enter into what we would call the fast lane, making it all seem quite precarious at times.
Driving in the USA fascinates me. The highway code is being slowly obliterated from my memory.
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Contest Comments » There are 35 commentsDarlene Mikolasko wrote 7 years ago:
The author is spot on in her observations and funny as ****! I wonder is she understands what that means lol?Smitten By Britain wrote 7 years ago:
Fab post Claire! As an American who has lived on the other side of the pond I feel compelled to comment point by point: 1. I'm surprised that you get that reaction when you say "Fine!" or "I'm fine." That's a pretty standard response where I am, usually it's "Fine. How are you?" Me, having lived in the UK, always says "Fine, thanks. And you?" I think this is one of those things that can change with where you live. 2. "As the actress said to the Bishop" - Yes, will go right over our heads and even this Anglophile has only heard that expression in the last few years. I think it was on a sitcom actually. Some advice though, try not to use "And that's what she said!" too much. You end up sounding like a dork (plonker.) ;-) 3. Yup, you've got that right. When I met my first husband who was from Glasgow I swear every other sentence had the "F" word in it. Some Brits use it as often as some Americans use "sh*t." Funny, we wouldn't bat an eye if you said "bloody" but your Gran may have something to say about it. 4. Try not to drive yourself crazy (mad) over this one or feel too badly. Remember many of us suffered through two to four years of orthodontia. For me it was horrible and still my teeth aren't perfectly straight. Personally, I feel it's a money maker for dentists. There is nothing medically necessary about having perfectly straight teeth. To a certain extent they need to be properly placed for chewing but crookedness is more an aesthetics issue. Most parents are pushed into by their dentist especially if they know they have good insurance. I held off for my son, hoping he wouldn't need them. The dentist never mentioned it so I let it pass but one day my son came to me, aged 17 and said a couple of his crooked teeth really bothered him. So we proceeded. However, he has never had his teeth whitened and I hope he never does. I work with someone who's teeth glow in the dark. It's ridiculous. 5. I think for Brits whether you call it dinner or tea depends on where you live as well as class, but I could be wrong. I call lunch, lunch and dinner, dinner but you can also call dinner, supper. People switch back and forth between dinner and supper sometimes. If you say either dinner or supper you're correct. However, I never do brunch. Still with me? 6. Yes, we do say "awesome!" a lot, especially if you were a child/teen of the 80's. In recent years I've made a conscious effort to stop saying it because it sounds immature for a 45 year old woman. 7. Shame this - when I was a kid I delivered papers on a bike. Sorry to say that paperboy delivering pretty much went bye-bye when we started putting photos of missing children on milk cartons. Hardly anyone these days lets their kids play outside let alone ride their bikes for miles in order to deliver papers. 8. Yes, we do Halloween better than Brits but the British kick our butts when it comes to Christmas. There's no place like Blighty at Christmas! 9. I have to disagree with you here I'm afraid - we do have rules but people are lousy at following them! One of my biggest pet peeves are people who do not know how to merge onto the highway properly or drive thru roundabouts correctly. We do have slow lanes and fast lanes but few people abide by them. The right lane is slow, the left lane is for passing. Technically, you're not supposed to stay in that left lane after you've passed but many people do so by default it becomes the fast lane. That's for a two lane, if you have a three or four lane the right is the slowest and with each lane further to the left the traffic should be faster. Again- I can completely understand someone being confused because drivers don't follow the rules.Amanda R. wrote 7 years ago:
For some reason, kids in China are taught that "I'm fine" is the right answer to "how are you?" and my husband and I are always trying to break them of that habit. I didn't know it was a British-ism. As for the roads, I would have to disagree. But that might be because I live in China where there are NO driving laws at all. I guess it is a sliding scale with Brits being the most conscientiousness, Americans in the middle, and the Chinese at the bottom, lol.EmmaK wrote 7 years ago:
Ha ha very good points especially about swearing! I am getting so pi**ed off with trying not to swear around here and now my 9 year old is telling me 'don't use bad words unless it is just you and me in the car.' I can live without anything....but not swearing!!Sarah D wrote 7 years ago:
Love reading your blog - some real laugh out loud moments! Glad you are having such a good timeRachel wrote 7 years ago:
Oh how we miss Claire, her impromptu zumba sessions and great shoes back here in the UK. But her blogs provide some sort compensation. For us Brits back home, Claire's witty banter and thoughtful observations provide us with great insights into life on the other side of the pond. As our American cousins might say: Awesome!Claire Melia wrote 7 years ago:
Love your blog and this is really insightful of your experiences. Love the way you educate us with your humour and Witt on things this side and that side of the pond.HarryW wrote 7 years ago:
Love this piece - some insights into the other side of the pond, and if this isn't made into a book, I'll eat my DVD copy of Downton Abbey!SJones wrote 7 years ago:
*Awesome* job, Claire! ;-) Great, fun read as always!!Jel wrote 7 years ago:
Great posting as always. Love reading your updates.Tara wrote 7 years ago:
With regards to #3, well, you're just not talking to the right f***ing people (or you don't have HBO). I don't know where in the US you are located, but here in the Mid-Atlantic, swearing is part of the tapestry (especially in New Jersey, where I grew up). Now of course when one is on "company" behavior and being polite, we use our "nice words." But generally speaking, we can curse a blue streak with the best of them! The whole mealtime thing is VERY regional, and somewhat generational. Don't get me started on drivers here...Kevin Inghram wrote 7 years ago:
Classic ukdesperatehousewife. The only blog I found and had to read every post because I was so entertained! Keep it up Claire!Nicole wrote 7 years ago:
Hilarious! I think that lunch & dinner is only dinner & supper in the South, though MD is technically the South so I can understand the confusion. I loved the bit about "that's what she said." I believe that phrase was made popular by Michael from our version of The Office. Was "said the actress to the bishop" popular in the U.K. Version? Love that Ricky Gervais. I love these blogs about the cultural differences, please keep writing about your observations, they're awesome!Kimberly J wrote 7 years ago:
OH I LOVED THIS! The bishop joke I didn't get and thought to myself... sounds like a good time for "That's what she said" and alas that is what you were getting to! LOL Having visited the UK several times I get what you mean on a lot of this. A very enjoyable post!Nick Peters wrote 7 years ago:
Hey Claire, you briefly touched on another good point. The fact that Americans refer to days such as Halloween and even Valentine's Day as 'Holidays'. No self respecting Brit would refer to a day as a holiday unless it meant you didn't have to go into work. Crazy!Jonathan G wrote 7 years ago:
I love this blog!Dermot Carlin wrote 7 years ago:
Gee Claire that blog is awesome great job x DermoPotter wrote 7 years ago:
Brilliant amusing and witty !Dan The Man wrote 7 years ago:
Witty, incisive and sharply observed. Keep it up - that's what she said...Ian Harding wrote 7 years ago:
Love it. Claire, is there nothing you are not good at? It seems the USA has not changed since I worked there in the 70`s. Oh how old have I become. Keep up the good work and bless you all.Aidan Larson wrote 7 years ago:
Claire, This entry is totally awesome! ;) Really, I thoroughly enjoyed your British point of view of my home country, land of the free and brave. I miss it and you reminded me of some of the reasons why. Thank you for such a happy, positive look at living in the States. Now, go through the drive thru pharmacy and dye some white eggs! Best from the south of france, AidanVyv wrote 7 years ago:
Awesome. My only complaint is that your entries are too short. As the actress said etc, etc.!Jacqueline Moore wrote 7 years ago:
I always look forward to the latest adventure-ukdesperatehousewife may be revealing to her countrymen but just as educational for Americans to see the familiar made new through Claire Bolden's eyes. Love to read how game Ms. Bolden is about diving right in to new experiences-everyone should read her work and vicariously enjoy the discoveries in fresh honest language!Ali T wrote 7 years ago:
Witty and wel written. I love how Claire is throwing herself into US life whole heartedly and sharing her experiences with us all - a blog I always enjoy reading and especially those laugh out loud moments.Pat S. wrote 7 years ago:
Hello, Claire! Loved this item. I am an American who has lived in the UK since 1996 -- SNAP! So much was so familiar. I think I will be following more of your writing. Cheers!Melinda Widner wrote 7 years ago:
I welcome the addition of this funny Brit to to our country. Her blog is a unique take on the cultural differences between our similar countries.Michelle wrote 7 years ago:
Fab blog which I look forward to reading! Great insight into a Brits life and observations in America!! Always a great read!Sue B wrote 7 years ago:
Love the quirky way you look at and comment on your new life Claire. Delighted you have so many enthusiastic followers and I am certainly one of them!Paul Drake wrote 7 years ago:
funny piece Claire. Think you should start your own bonfire tradition out there, the USA kids will thank you for it :)Janet & Paul wrote 7 years ago:
Paul to Jan: 'Jan.. you have got to read Claire's blog, its great, it's like being back in Utah!' Yes, Claire, 'Thats What He Said' (Not got that quite right have I...?) How successful do I rate this blog...if it got Paul and me laughing out loud after a llloonnnnggg Wednesday at work... you have once again worked your 'Golden-Bolden' magic! We loved it Claire, thank you for making us smile and laugh thanks to you wonderful way with words. Looking forward to the Easter Bunny episode.... Jan xx GLisa wrote 7 years ago:
A W E S O M E !!!! I want more please.Julie Y wrote 7 years ago:
Love reading about you experiences here in the U.S. - you bring such a fresh perspective to so many things we have accepted into our everyday life. Thankfully certain things didn't take hold...although I would have loved your commentary on them..such as "that's MONEY" as a replacement for the so-overused "that's cool" or "that's awesome". The expression "that's phat" was around for a bit but must say I don't really know what it meant. I know you arrived in July but wondered if you were here for July 4. Wonder what your thoughts are on our celebration of independence from your homeland...In any case, I'm so glad you are here and enjoying yourself. Love your blog...its never long enough. Thats what she said.Marie wrote 7 years ago:
As a fellow Brit in the US, I recognise all of these, but have forgotten some of them!! When I lived in Alabama I quickly learnt that the British, 'Are you all right' is the equal to the American, 'How are you', but they had no idea of that! On greeting someone, I'd sometimes respond to their, 'Hi, how are you?', with, 'I'm fine thanks, are you all right?'. I'd get odd looks, sometimes startled looks as if I'd offended them and thought they just didn't understand my accent. I quickly learnt though, that by asking an American if they're 'all right', means you are asking them if they are okay, as you think they looking ill/sick, or their arm's practically hanging off!! Also, they are not actually asking how you are as such, they don't expect a response of how you are doing/feeling, it's just a way of saying hello. In my world, lunch is lunch, tea is early dinner, as you say usually for the kids, dinner is the last meal of the day for grown-ups and supper is a late-night bite to eat, or a more informal gathering of friends for a meal/food rather than a dinner party! Who knows!! I too am sad not seeing the child on the bike chucking a newspaper onto peoples' lawns/front yards!! And teeth, I too love a straight set of clean, white teeth and there's nothing like an American set of perfect gnashers! Pardon me is rather amusing too! Brits usually say it relating to a burp/some other rude bodily noise, Americans say it if they're walking past in front of you, something like that. And the list goes on!! ..............Denis wrote 7 years ago:
F*ing brilliant! Gets my vote.Candice wrote 7 years ago:
Some damn great wit every time, Claire!! We've closely worked with Brits for over a decade and our business partners are Brits, who love pointing out where we are falling short in the day-to-day (as the actress said to the bishop) [editor's note: there is no actual falling short in certain categories which will not be gone into in great length ... ahem] but never with the same awesomeness as you!!!! [editors note: not as in just good but as in totally awesome!] Spry and entertaining, even educational at times, I always look forward to your next report ... so a wholehearted thank you!! Great to be part of your universe!