Today marks US Independence Day – commemorating America’s Independence from Britain with the Declaration of Independence signed on 4th July, 1776. Usually, it’s a day that’s bursting with ceremonies, parties, parades and family reunions to name a few, but this year however, it’s going to be slightly different. With the COVID19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing down in the US, and an inherent anger at celebrating what many disbelieve to be complete independence of the American people, parades have been cancelled and many events are being held online.
America have succeeded in separating themselves fully from their former Imperial powers, from their radical change in spelling (grey vs gray, humour vs humor, theatre vs theater, etc) and their difference in numerical systems, to the side of the road they drive on and of course, reinventing our traditional ‘biscuit’. Most recently, you might recall the video of this American lady trying (and absolutely failing in every way) to make a cup of tea. This is Britain paying the price for its colonial past right here:
Whilst us Brits have recoiled in HORROR at this tea-making attempt, it seems that these are not the only differences. Let’s have a look at some of the variants in culture between the US and the UK, whilst remembering that although I love America, my American friends, and will forever be in love with the way they say ‘water’, I am – of course – biased to the Great British language. So without further ado, let’s proceed!
1BISCUITS OR COOKIES?
After a discussion on Reddit, one user asked ‘Americans, what “British Thing” confuses you?’ He was met with a particularly hilarious answer: ‘I’m going to have to go with “Digestive biscuits”. It sounds like something I’d give to my dog if he ate a crayon’.
Us Brits use the term ‘biscuits’ to describe hard/crunchy items – a Rich Tea biscuit if you will. The word itself was actually taken from Latin and means ‘twice cooked’. A ‘cookie’ in the UK is slightly chunkier and softer than a biscuit – imagine those melt in your mouth chocolate chip ones from Subway – although when it comes down to Maryland cookies, I’m not quite sure if I’d call them a biscuit OR a cookie. Thoughts?
A US biscuit on the other hand, is used to describe a baked item like a scone but apparently… softer (these are popular in the Southern states where they actually pair them with gravy!) Their ‘cookie’ is used the same as our cookie – phew! British people know that a cookie is soft and squishy – but in the US, a cookie is the umbrella term for what WE call a biscuit AND what they call a cookie. Confused? So am I.
2How to tell the time?
We’re pretty approximate when it comes to time in Britain. We use ‘quarter past’, ‘half past’ or ‘quarter to’ the hour when describing the time of the day. Do Americans use this? Nope. If an American asks you what time it is, and you reply “it’s half past 8”, you’ll not be understood – period. If you ask an American the same question, you will be getting the hour and the minute, quite literally. If it’s 10.13 – it won’t be nearly ‘quarter past ten’, it will be just that – 10.13. It’s no wonder I’m always late and my American buddies are always on time.
3“Thank you, that’ll be 200,000 dollars please”
TAX TAX TAX is NOT included in anything in the US, until you get the receipt and then it hits you in squarely in the face that you need to pay a whole lot more than what you were expecting. In the UK, you know exactly what you’re getting – the price is there, it’s what you pay, no matter WHAT you’re shopping for. In the US? Oh no, it seems quite a reasonable price until you arrive at the checkout and remember that’s not what you’re paying in the slightest.
4I beg that you call them baguettes
I think we (if you’re a Brit reading my article) can all agree that a baguette is a baguette and a breadstick is a breadstick – but NOT Stateside. In America, an American breadstick is in fact a small baguette, instead of the nice, slim, crunchy items we dip in tomato soup – my mind is blown.
5Don’t tell your life story
Americans are friendly people and they approach any person with the same relaxed ‘how’s it going’ mannerism. This is just a nice way to introduce the conversation and not an indication of wanting to know your entire autobiography aka ‘oh well it could be going better you know? A bird pooped on my head today and I got fired from my job – you?’ Be COOL Brits, be COOL.
6Feel – what now?
If you’re out with your American friend, and they ask for a ‘feel-lay’ of steak or fish, they mean fillet as in ‘fill-it’. I was convinced my friend was speaking French and trying to show off until she had to spell it out to me that she wanted a ‘fill-it of steak’. An easy mistake to make surely?
7A LACK OF ELECTRIC KETTLES
British people are renowned for having a tea obsession. This tradition dates back to the early 17th Century when the East India Company first brought tea to Britain and it became a ritual introduced by Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. The first ladies’s tea shop was then opened in 1717 by Thomas Twining and thus the boom of tea drinking began. It’s been reported that Brits drink more than 60 billion cups of tea a YEAR, so you’ll forgive me if I shudder telling you that electric kettles are basically not a big deal in America – and therefore, neither is tea. If kettles are in use, they’ll be the ones that whistle on the stove. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but about 85% of tea consumed in the States is either iced or COLD, so with that heartbreaking fact, I think we should quickly move on.
8Don’t get your knickers in a twist!
Or do you mean pants? Or trousers? It’s one of the most common differences in the UK VS US dictionary, but pants in the USA refers to the things you wear on your legs (yes, I know you know, it’s trousers). In the UK, ‘pants’ are your underwear – so you know, that’s confusing.
9“I could care less!”
I’m going to throw it out there – I don’t know what this means in the slightest. I’ve heard my American friends say this and I don’t know if that means that they COULD care less or that they COULDN’T care less. Surely if you cared less, you wouldn’t care at all? I actually don’t care enough to ask them – but it’s definitely in my phrasebook of American sayings I don’t understand.
10That’s a whole lotta Latin!
There are two items that have completely different names in the UK and the US. The Cilantro herb is most commonly known to the British as ‘Coriander’. We can trace its origins to the same Latin word of ‘Coriandrum’ but we received our version from the French – ‘Coriandre’ – and the US received theirs from the Spaniards – ‘Culantro’. Similarly, the posh lettuce otherwise known as ‘Rocket’ to us Brits, is known as ‘Arugula’ in the States. Arugula can be traced back to Southern Italian immigrants in America who named their plant ‘Aruculu’. The UK once again received the French word of ‘Roquette’ which came from the Northern Italian dialect calling Arugula ‘Ruchette’. Interesting eh? Nevertheless, still a little difficult to remember when overseas in either country!
Which differences have YOU discovered when visiting America or the UK? Let us know in the comments below!