Upon my return from ten days in the Home of the Brave, here are a few thoughts on US/UK differences. Before I begin, a few needed caveats. First, David and I have now lived outside of the US for two years which means that sometimes I can’t remember if the way I do things is British, Ugandan, American, or just personal preference, so please take my comments with a grain of salt. Second, my recent trip to the US was spent entirely in the Mid-West/Plains, so that is my comparison point to London. Someone from NYC might feel some of these same differences if they paid a similar visit. With that, here are my top three differences:
1. HUGE – After celebrating my grandmother’s 100th birthday with her in Kansas, my family and I set out on the tedious 13 hour drive from Newton, Kansas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota – a formidable drive for any American but basically inconceivable by British standards. In the UK, a drive of this length would take one from most southerly England to most northerly Scotland. In the US, this drive through four states witnessed few changes in landscape and almost no change in culture or language. I realized that we North Americans can’t truly appreciate just how huge of a landmass we inhabit.
2. Friendly – Not long after landing at Chicago O’Hare (one of my least favorite places on earth), I was taken aback by the chatty friendliness of my fellow country-folk. On my way to the luggage carts, another traveler gave me his and turned to get another, and O’Hare was just the beginning. The four times I was in grocery stores, other customers handed me shopping carts or chatted with me about my selections. In one particularly memorable exchange, the man behind me in the checkout line compared his shopping cart full of 5 pounds of bacon and 3 steaks to my cart of veggies and pita chips. ‘Better than spending my money on beer!’ he quipped cheerfully patting his large belly.
Not once has a stranger ever struck up a conversation with me in a London grocery store, but I’m not saying that Brits are unfriendly. Rather Londoners’ reluctance for chit-chat is probably a more universal marker of big cities worldwide as many Brits from outside London also find this strange. David and I have found people to be friendlier the farther north we travel up the isle. Scots in particular are very keen to chat, and even the slightest of look of confusion from a visitor will garner multiple offers for assistance.
3. Emotional – I came across this map which highlights something that I’ve been trying to put my finger on for a while – Americans are a hot mess! Last year after a training made up of Americans and Africans, one African noted with confusion, ‘All Americans want to talk about is emotions.’ Here in the UK, a Brit informed me that Americans use far too many explanation points in emails. (As if!!!) A recent study even found that American books use more emotional language than those by British authors. We Americans describe mundane things as ‘awesome’ or ‘terrible’ and use impassioned phrases such as ‘the War on Drugs,’ or even ‘I literally love this skirt.’
One place that I especially notice the emotional gap is church. I probably cried biweekly while attending Sanctuary Covenant in Minneapolis, and I remember multiple occasions where the person preaching broke down in tears while delivering a particularly stirring message. In my Anglican, Baptist, and Salvation Army London church experiences, I have hardly seen affirmative head nods much less a single tear. Once when I was speaking to a group of Salvationists their faces were so deadpan, that I assumed my message was a flop. I was shocked when many of them donated to my cause and found me later to congratulate me.
In conclusion, what can I say? It was an amazing trip in a huge land of friendly and emotional folks!!!