7 Awkward Conversations You'll Have with A Brit
Whenever we are with our British friends, we always end up laughing over the weird things we say to each other. Sometimes we make fun of each other, other times we compare cultural differences... and other times, Tyler and I just give each other a side eye that says "What the heck are they talking about?" Honestly, the longer I am here and the more friends that I have that are British, the more I realize HOW DIFFERENT we actually are.
I could (and would love to) write a book on the funny differences between American & British culture, but for the sake of making this blog readable- here are seven situations that you could (and will!) find yourself having with a Brit if you spend any considerable time here.
HOW DID YOU FIND IT? Tyler used to get the biggest kick out of this. We would talk about a place we went to dinner or traveled to, and, inevitably, someone would ask us "How did you find it?" I would always start off on some long-winded explanation of either how to get there physically ("Well, we were walking up from Tottenham Court Road towards SoHo. If you go past the square, you'll see it right there. It's just behind the main statue with a big sign at the door.") or I would explain how it was that we found out about it in the first place ("Oh, I didn't actually find it. It was recommended to my by our friends who know all about Israeli food. They told us about it and since they pretty much are the experts- we trusted them.")
By the time my narrative had ended, Tyler would be shaking his head and the Brit who had asked the question would be stating at me as if I had antlers growing out of my head.
WHAT THEY ACTUALLY MEAN: What did you think about it?
ARE YOU OKAY? Again, another space filler in conversation that took me forever to understand. When someone asks you "Are you okay?," they aren't worried that you are sick or making a passive reference to another traumatic moment in your life that you have yet to discuss with them. So, learn from my mistake, and don't respond with a "Yes, of course. Why? Do I look bad or something? It was just raining and I had to run to catch the bus. I'm fine, promise!" Because they're actually just trying to be polite.
WHAT THEY ACTUALLY MEAN: How are you?
WHAT DO YOU DO? This one is going to fall on our side for weird ways to throw off a conversation. Brits (and other Commonwealth citizens, I'm learning) don't launch into talking about "what you do for a living" in first talks. In facts, it typically comes up after several interactions in a natural way. If you are with someone who hangs around Americans often, they'll be used to being asked this. But if not, asking someone "What their husband does?" will be met with a confused look and a pause... "What do you mean? Like for fun? Or what is he doing right now?"
QUITE: In America, we use quite to describe something as a degree better. For example: If someone asked you about a nice wedding you attended, you could reply "Oh, it was quite the party!" to imply that it was something a bit extraordinary.
In Britain, quite is used to describe something a degree worse. For example: If you were asked about a restaurant that was mediocre, you could reply "It's quite nice," and the impression that it was marginal and nothing special would be implied. It takes something down a degree, where we use it to amplify something and make it a better/bigger thing.
(Actually untangling this connotation is VERY confusing to both parties, since it so ingrained on both sides to mean something so different.)
TEA: This is a entire can of worms, but as an expat living in Britain, inevitably someone will tell you what they are having for tea... except, while an American will start imaging a tiered-tray of scones, cakes and sandwiches, that aren't at all.
WHAT THEY ACTUALLY MEAN: This term can mean several things, but often times, it refers to supper or a light dinner. This especially comes in to play when talking to parents. Children are after fed "tea" before bed consisting of fish sticks or chicken nuggets... rather than a "proper dinner," which would that imply more of a a large home-cooked family meal.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? This, again, is something an American will ask a Brit. The exchange is always enjoyable to watch play out. Because we ask it to know where someone lives. If I met an American at a conference, and they ask me where I am from I would answer "London." But if a Brit asked me that, I would answer, "I grew up in Dallas, Texas but have been living in the UK for the past five years."
You see, they hear it as: "Where were you raised?" That's where they are "from," even though they may be living somewhere else completely different now and have been for years. I guess that whole "You can take a girl out of the south, but you can't take the south out of her" idea applies to Brits, too. You can take them away from where they are from, but you'll never be able to wipe that from their identity. If you want to know what city they live in currently, try asking if a bit more directly: "What city do you live in?"
PROPER: When this term is used, we think of something that is fancy and has been blessed by someway by the Queen or Oxford University. There is a chain in Britain, BYRON, that's tagline is "Proper Hamburgers." I read that as some sort of way to say that they made posh, fancy burgers for a long time until I realized, that wasn't what the word means here.
WHAT THEY ACTUALLY MEAN: When a Brit refers to something being "proper," it doesn't mean that it of is an elite-class. What it means is... that is an official version of something. It implies that the item is "as it was intended" or within the "official way of doing something." For example, you could hear it used to explain how to register your license for something and be told that "the proper method for filing was within 60 days." Or, in the case of burgers or other food, when you would say it like Americans use the term "real." In the same way I would whine about not having "real Tex-Mex," someone here could bemoan that "though the tea was quite nice, there weren't any proper cakes to have." Get it?
Oh man... this list could go on for ages. There are so many small twists in the language that remind me that we think we are on the same page, but totally not. As George Bernard Shaw said: "England and American are two countries divided by a common language." It's so true. We are talking with each other, but often times in funny circles around each other, too.
Do you have any funny nuances that you have noticed? Share them. I could talk about this for days.
*images by Noah Darnell and original to Aspiring Kennedy