There are many brilliant aspects about the UK which would make any American swoon for life across the pond. For starters there’s multi-coloured money, Pimm’s and lemonade, free museums stockpiled with the world’s treasures, punny jokes, spelling words with more letters, fish and chips, healthcare for all, hilarious street names, scones with cream and jam, unarmed police who dance at street carnivals, some of the world’s loveliest people and much more. But despite my love for Britannia, a few Britishisms still baffle this Yankee mind even after a year.
1. Bedding without top sheets
No matter the season and no matter the environment (hotel or home), beds across the UK have presented David and I with the same puzzling bedding arrangement: fitted sheet and duvet with cover but no top sheet. In fact, at our current catsitting assignment I cannot find any top sheets in the household – only duvet covers. This arrangement is especially perplexing in the summer months when it is far too warm to sleep under a duvet, but no alternative is provided. Upon her visit, David’s grandmother ingeniously decided to remove the duvet from it’s cover and use the cover as a sheet, and that’s how we now get around this conundrum. (Note: Americans should also be prepared to sleep without a top sheet in much of Europe as well.)
2. ‘Are you alright?’ as greeting
My first day of work in London three different people asked me, ‘Are you alright?’ Caught off-guard, I smiled and said ‘yes, thank you’ while inwardly wondering just how nervous I looked. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realised that this phrase was merely being used as a casual greeting to replace, ‘How are you?’ or even ‘What’s up?’ This took a lot of getting used to, and even now my mind momentarily freezes when asked this question. For all our non-Yankee readers, the question ‘Are you alright/okay?’ is normally only used in American-glish when someone looks sick, tired, nervous, stressed, or just plain out of sorts. It’s also used to show sympathy to someone after they have faced unfortunate events – you know things like sickness, losing a job, or car accidents. It is definitely not used to greet someone first thing in the morning. Basically it takes a lot to not respond to the question, ‘Is David alright?’ with ‘OMG – what do you know that I don’t!’
3. Distance in miles, weight in stones
The fact that Brits measure distance in miles should make any American feel right at home, but I am left just more bewildered since all other British measurements are metric. More confusing is that Brits measure human body weight by ‘stones‘ (1 stone = 14 pounds) and all other weights in kilos. Of course Americans also confuse our Imperial measurements (happily adopted from the Brits) with metric as well; such as guns (mm) and drugs (kg), often measured in metric. Not exactly sure what this says about us?
Americans entering the UK should leave behind our silly limited understanding of the term ‘pudding’ as a gelatinous milk-based dessert in either chocolate or vanilla. It seems that here in the UK this word can be used for innumerable different types of foods. For instance, the term ‘pudding’ can mean desserts in general such as in the comment, ‘I’m dieting so I’ve given up puddings.’ On the other hand, puddings can also be savory as in batter puddings like Yorkshire Pudding (yum!).
Most perplexing of all, the term is used for various meat products and sausages such as black/blood pudding, white/oatmeal pudding, haggis, steak and kidney pudding, hog’s pudding, etc. This last category is for the more adventurous eater, so it’s no wonder that one of David’s English classmates once commented, ‘Sadly, young people just don’t eat many traditional puddings anymore.’
This list definitely makes me wonder what confuses foreigners about America, anyone care to share?