Top 10 Differences Between Parenting in America vs. Parenting in Britain

By: Meghan Fenn

Written from the point of view of an American mother raising British born children in England

1. Children’s birthday parties: In Britain, don’t make your children open their presents in front of their friends at the party. Don’t serve the cake with ice cream at the party (put it in their party bags, wrapped up in a napkin - and don’t give out party ‘favors’, they must be in a ‘party bag’!). Don’t sing the Hokey Pokey, in Britain it is Okey Cokey. (I made this mistake once and confused children and grown ups and embarrassed myself and my daughter).

2. In public or in front of your child’s teacher, say to your child “Well done!”, not “Good job!”

3. Don’t call another child “buddy” or “bud” because they will think that you think their name is actually “Buddy” or “Bud”.

4. Candy is called ‘sweets’ in England. People - children and adults - do not understand the word candy and you will be made fun of by your own children if you say the word ‘candy’, meaning ‘sweets’.

5. Names like Hugo, Jemima, Angus and Esme are posh names and they are completely acceptable and desirable names for your baby in Britain. I suppose the American equivalent would be something like Banks, Blane, Bitsy, Swayne and DeeDee.

6. You will discover wonderful books like Charlie & Lola, Room on The Broom, Albie and the Space Rocket which you’ll read to your children over and over again and they/you will love them. They will grow up with Enid Blyton and the Fantastic Five instead of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and you will order lots of books by American authors just to give them a taste of what you read as a child such as Goodnight Moon and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes and anything by Mark Twain.

7. Attend as many ‘meet the teacher’ and parent ‘training’ sessions as you can in order to learn how your child is being taught in school so you know how to help them with their homework. Especially Math, which is called Maths, and you must say Maths and not Math otherwise you will look like an idiot and they will think you are an idiot and your child will think you are an idiot.

8. ‘Bloody’ is actually a swear word, not just a funny word (something I did not realize even after living in the UK for many years). Crap is a swear word in Britain and not to be used in public by yourself to your child unless you want other parents to look at you horrified that you just said the word ‘crap’ to your child.

9. Do not spank your child in public or even suggest that you might spank your child at home even if you do. Do not suggest that spanking is an effective way of discipline even if you think it is. Spanking is not generally accepted (and is actually called smacking, not spanking and is also usually a ‘smack’ to the hand, rather than a full on spank on the butt). I know there is a divide in the US as well when it comes to spanking. Nevertheless, in Britain, spanking is less common than in the US and in my experience, British mothers and fathers are horrified by the thought of it, much as they are of capital punishment i.e. the death penalty.

10. You will notice yourself becoming ‘British’ in the way you talk to your child and the way you do things simply because you are living in Britain and are surrounded by British families - you won’t be able to help it and even if you think you are not, you are. It is also common for parents of other cultures who are raising British born children to want to instill in them some of their own culture and heritage or to simply see them grow up with similar references and influences. Some things will just not be possible. My son is growing up with an inherent understanding of Europe and the European way of life. He has never heard of countries like Chile or Peru (countries I grew up knowing about from forever ago) and he and his friends talk about America as being full of fat people, guns and cheap shoes. Weird right? Well not to him, to him that is normal and no matter what I tell him or how many times we go to America, he will always see it as a foreign country instead of a place that is part of his own heritage. Maybe I am wrong and all of my efforts will finally someday rub off on one of my three children and when one of them chooses to go to America to live (will they? won’t they?), they won’t feel like a complete foreigner but will feel some kind of affinity which will make it easier for them and they’ll feel proud to be part American. Yes? No? We shall see....

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMeghan Fenn is an American expat living in England. Blog description: I am an American expat mother living in England. I've been here since 1999, am married to a British man and have 3 children, all born in the UK.
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Contest Comments » There are 23 comments

Arianna Helm wrote 10 years ago:

Once again you have written a blog post that really highlights the differences between raising a child in the UK and raising one in another country. Thankfully my Mon has sent me loads of my old story books from when I was a child so my daughter is learning to love the books I grew up with. I'm forever telling my daughters friends "That is how we say it in Canada." as I am always saying something that isn't quite right.

Cathy wrote 10 years ago:

I love your article Meghan. I think it is very interesting how there are similarities between Australian practices and American (e.g. opening your presents in front of everyone). I've been told by my friends and family that I am now more British (losing some of that Aussie twang). I too am bringing up little Brits and am trying to be sensitive to the local customs as well as telling them a little bit about my own home country.

Jess wrote 10 years ago:

This is hilarious, and kind of scary because I have a four year old in England and had no idea about half of this. (Almost three years later...) Love the blog :)

Donna Napier wrote 10 years ago:

This is so true !! I miss the Little Golden books and am going to try to order at least one American children's book a month - or at least Shel Silverstein :) You have great insight and I really am glad I subscribed to your blog - it's so great to have someone 'on side' since all my family's in America. Great to know other moms are going through finding our way through this 'alien' land ;)

Emma Kaufmann wrote 10 years ago:

This is so spot on. I am a Brit living in USA and yes for a while when I was at the playground I kept thinking why are all these kids called Buddy?! I didn't know crap was an offensive swearword in the UK though but that is because I swore freely back when I was living there. It only gets tricky keeping your mouth shut once you have kids.

Helen Scott wrote 10 years ago:

Loved this article from Meg. I didn't know there were so many differences between US and Brits cultures. As a Brit I found this very entertaining. As usual, Meg provides anvinsightful and entertaining blog post - a guaranteed good read!

Nichole wrote 10 years ago:

Thank you for the great post, it is so comforting to know there are other Americans in the UK who understand and can sympathize with the vast differences in our cultures. Something people "back home" and our next door neighbors just don't understand.

Ellie wrote 10 years ago:

Meg, as always, what an awesome job you've done pointing out some hilarious and oh, so true differences between the parenting styles here and the US. I still can't help but chuckle inside my head upon hearing my very affluent neighbour call out after her daughter - Jemima, hurry up, slow coach. I think of good ole toothy African American Aunt Jemima from the pancake mix and gloat at my fantasy of showing my neighbour who she named her kid after. Oh yeah, that girl, named after the pancake mix, I know her. On a serious note, what I found appalling in comparison to the US is how parents here take so little care and notice of the condition of their children's teeth. Perfectly mannered girls and boys have visited my house carrying their mini iPads in their book bags and meanwhile flashing me rotten or yellow smiles full of crooked teeth. With a neatly free health system, it's got to be a matter of personal choice not to care for one's teeth? Certainly they don't walk around displaying poor hygiene (sometimes not just oral, too) because of lack of resources. Boggles the mind.

Kris wrote 10 years ago:

This is so great! Thanks for the heads up with some of this stuff. My daughter will be starting school in January, so this is helpful to know! and oh gosh, I threw a birthday party for my daughter and wish I had known all of what you said in no 1. I got it all wrong I guess! :) No wonder some of the parents were giving me odd looks! hahaha!

Kris wrote 10 years ago:

This is so great! Thanks for the heads up with some of this stuff. My daughter will be starting school in January, so this is helpful to know! and oh gosh, I threw a birthday party for my daughter and wish I had known all of what you said in no 1. I got it all wrong I guess! :) No wonder some of the parents were giving me odd looks! hahaha!

Kimberly Cole wrote 10 years ago:

Love it! I don't have children but I volunteer with a local Brownie pack. I saw weird things all of the time. We were learning about seasons and in order to sing an American song to reflect the season, they had to explain that Americans call "autumn" "fall" instead. They do mock my accent but I think that in England if they pick on you they really like you.

Rozynna Fielding wrote 10 years ago:

I love this, I can relate to much of it as I grew up in the UK but spent summers with cousins in San Francisco and Vancouver.

Amanda Samain wrote 10 years ago:

Fabulous and a very entertaining read Meg! I never realised all the differences or how hilarious they could be!

Stephanie Ward wrote 10 years ago:

It's always fascinating to learn about the cultural differences between countries, especially two countries that seem to be more similar than not. Thank you for this post Meg, I'm sure it will help many an expat parent.

Kirthi Mundada wrote 10 years ago:

I dont have kids, but this article teaches you so much about Britain and U.S. in a Funny way.Just Fabulous Meghan!!

Debbie Mann wrote 10 years ago:

I love your books Meghan and your article is just as informative in light hearted way - love the names and the swearing section :)

Ally Oliver wrote 10 years ago:

It's great to read a blog that embraces cultural differences in a fun and upbeat way. I love language variations not just between countries but within them too - it's so expansive. And they can be great conversation starters or stoppers as the case may be!!!

Murielle Maupoint wrote 10 years ago:

As a French national living in the UK for forever, it always gets me chuckling to read insightful blogs such as Meg's that strip away and highlight the cultural differences us expats experience on a day to day basis. Great blog Meg - look forward to the next one.

Anna-Liisa Milburn wrote 10 years ago:

It is so nice to know that there are other expats going through similar experiences to me. I feel that with each passing year I am adjusting more to my British surroundings. I love to read Julia Donaldson's books with my children, however, I am very excited that Goodnight Moon was selected from our Christmas wishlist over the Gruffalo. Nevermind that it was probably my mom who bought the gift. At least my children will get a taste of my childhood.

Caterina wrote 10 years ago:

I always thought that misunderstandings in language come when you are trying to translate things from your mother tongue to a different language, not when moving between two versions of the same one, in this case English. I loved the "buddy/bud" part, and I admit that I hadn't realized how "heavy" the word "bloody" is in Britain. I need 10 or 20 more of these, please, I had a great time reading the post!

Sara Guiel wrote 10 years ago:

This was hilarious! Posh English names made me roar with laughter - never knew Jemima was the US equivalent of Bitsy - or thereabouts! An insightful, entertaining read as ever Meg.

Jennifer Neal wrote 10 years ago:

So hilarious Meg! Crap is not a swear word in Canada - although not very nice! Unfortunately my son has picked up my attitude and told his father that Walmart is crap! He was not impressed... What can I say ? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree ! :)

Marjolijn wrote 10 years ago:

What an entertaining read Meg! I had no idea of the differences between the US and the UK. As a Dutch national having lived in the UK for 13 years, I thought I was 'down with the kids' but I never knew about the present opening in front of friends, does this count for adults too? I've been doing it all wrong.. I don't have children yet myself, but am already thinking of the Dutch influences I want to give them and can only hope that they will be grateful to me in time, because I am absolutely sure I will embarrass them with my (and their?) differences.. It's actually quite scary thinking about it!

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