After living here for 4 months, I am now of course an expert on all things British. Please don’t be intimidated by my vast knowledge of the culture, the geography, the history and the people of this great place; this Great Britain. Just learn from my wisdom.
Here are (in my exalted opinion) the top ten things Americans should know about England:
- Brits don’t understand (or care to understand) anything about American baseball. Don’t try to explain it to them, it will only make you crazy (or in English parlance: mad). Really, don’t bother.
- No one in England drinks beer from a bottle. They may drink it from a (sometimes less than clean) glass at a dodgy pub but they won’t drink it from a bottle. Only Americans and Barbarians drink beer from bottles.
- Left is right. The origin of driving on the left allegedly has something to do with jousting but that sounds like bollocks to me. I think it’s retaliation for our Independence from England – that and the bloody roundabouts. Just remember to stay on the left and yield to the right – you’ll be fine.
- “I need to spend a penny.” A quaint expression meaning ‘to use a public toilet’. Never leave the house without 20 or 30 pence in your pocket. Most toilets don’t give change and none take bills even though there have been times I would have gladly paid £5 for much-needed relief.
- People are really very friendly. If you’re in London you may not encounter the most welcoming folks but it’s no different from New York. When’s the last time someone in New York held a door for you or smiled at you? Plus the majority of people you’ll encounter in London are likely tourists. If you want friendly, come to the towns and villages. People there are truly nice; proud of their homes; and happy to meet you. Plus a pint is cheaper in a pub in the Cotswolds or Midlands than some posh pub in Central London.
- Don’t wear big white tennis shoes. Also don’t wear your favourite team’s jersey or T-shirt unless of course it’s Manchester United or Liverpool (but then you could still be in for a fight). The white tennis shoes and “I love Opryland” T-shirt just makes you a target for ridicule, not to mention pick-pockets.
- Brown Sauce. The most popular brand, HP, has a malt vinegar base, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind, and spices. Good on everything, particularly fish and chips.
- Garden Centres. Not to be confused with the garden center at your local Home Depot or Lowes. This is not just an area of the parking lot cordoned off for seasonal sales of shrubberies and manure. These are permanent structures with toys, apparel, garden furniture, giftware, butcher counters, bakeries, wine bars, cafes and playgrounds for the kiddies. Additionally they sell plants, flowers, shrubberies and all other garden necessities.
- “You alright?” The equivalent to our “Morning, how are ya?” or “Hi!” No real response is expected here. Just a “Hi” or “Fine, and you?” will suffice. Or “Okay.” It’s one of those mindless greetings that we are all familiar with. No one really wants to know ‘how you are’ or ‘if you are alright’.
- Long Live The Queen! Although it’s been bandied-about that the Royalty is outdated or unnecessary; don’t be confused. She’s beloved. She’s an institution. And Elizabeth has NEVER brought dishonor to the Crown. Suggestions that she should step down and let Charles become King are ridiculous and American. Her Diamond Jubilee is receiving more press here than the 2012 London Olympics. Plus two days off work!
I hope that this helps those of you that are planning travel here, or even better, those of you contemplating “taking the plunge” and actually moving here as we have.
We’re traveling to Paris this weekend and then I have business in Portugal next week. Stay tuned for my Continental wisdom. Rick Steves – watch your back!