My name is Amy and I am British. Those are the only two things people need to know before we proceed to quickly become best of friends—well, that’s if I’m in America, anyway, and it tends to be the latter of these two key facts that gets people really interested.
I’m going to just say it to you straight-up: I love America and I love Americans. Never in my life have I been so overwhelmingly liked by perfect strangers, simply because I have an accent. And yes: I admit that I’m a sucker for attention, so being at the centre of it gave me every reason to look favourably on you Yanks and the New World that you inhabit (that, and the life-altering phenomenon that is free soft-drink refills).
You see, I lived in Pennsylvania for a little less than a year for study-abroad. After living in the U.S. for a while, though, I must admit I got a little tired of meeting new faces. Not because I didn’t like the people I met, but because when you’re an awkward little British kid in a sea of Anglophiles, people like to ask questions. Lots of questions. And they ask the same questions again and again and again. I love you guys, but having to face the same comments day after day definitely grates on a poor homesick soul a little bit.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d try and do y’all a favour—that is, compile a list of things that you should probably try not to say to a British person. That cute British guy in your class, for example—or, y’know, Prince Harry if you should ever casually run into Britain’s most eligible bachelor while he’s still single*.
1. “I love British accents!”
I’ll begin with my biggest bugbear. Let me just give a quick geography lesson here. Great Britain (or, rather, the United Kingdom) is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. All of these countries have very distinct national characteristics and very different accents. Within these countries there are even further variances in accent. Like, huge variances. A person from Glasgow will sound absolutely nothing like a person from London; there is no such thing as a “British accent”. Tell them instead that you like their accent, and don’t insult them by instantly letting on you know nothing about their country and culture.
2. “I can do the best British accent.”
This is a bad move for two reasons. As stated above, “British” accents don’t exist. For that very reason, your version probably isn’t very good—think Anne Hathaway in “One Day” when she somehow managed to mix a heavy Yorkshire accent with elocution-lesson English (appalling). Also, the novelty of hearing an American bark “tea and crummmpets!” at you like it’s the funniest thing you’ll ever hear tends not to be the funniest thing you’ll ever hear when you’ve heard it several times in one evening.
3. “Oh, you’re from London!”
Maybe your victim is in fact from London and you’re very good at guessing. But that would be like hearing you were from America and then immediately assuming you were from New York, when actually you hail from a backwater in North Dakota. Stick with “the U.K.”, “Britain” or, if you’ve really been doing your homework, “England”/”Scotland” (or whatever else you can discern—you’ll score several points for specific counties).
4. “Oh, you’re from Europe!”
The U.K. is not Europe. Well, OK, technically yes it is part of Europe—but it’s also not. Not to us. We’re pretty proud of our poky little island, and we don’t tend to lump ourselves in with mainland Europe. We’re British, thank you very much, not European.
5. “Cheers, mate!”
This is very closely linked to point No. 2. But “cheers, mate” is, without doubt, the most irksome. Why? Because every other person we meet will invariably drop it into conversation. And we cringe. Every. Single. Time. Just… don’t do it. Rise above.
6. “My great-grandmother was British!”
It’s not that this is annoying; it’s just kind of irrelevant. One thing I noticed in the U.S. was that you guys all seem to be very aware of your family tree; aside from being ‘Murican on the face of it, you know your roots, where your family come from, and you like talking about it. Now, much as I think this is fascinating, you must understand that in Britain we kind of don’t care about that sort of thing. Unless we are very closely descended from a family of immigrants, our cultural ties to our ancestors are generally non-existent. No offence, but I’m just not bothered if you have some British lineage somewhere down the line—unless it turns out you’re a secret descendent of the Tudor family or something, but that is unlikely.
7. “Ohmaigaaad I could listen to you talk all
Is there anything more awkward than having someone look at you with pure adoration and tell you they could listen to you forever? Not really. Our awkward British dispositions aren’t programmed to cope with the simplest of compliments, so direct and unwarranted declarations of love from strangers are just painfully cringe-inducing.
8. “Do you live in a castle?”
9.9999 times out of 10, the answer is no. Don’t bother.
9. “You drink in Britain? But you do it in a classy way, right?”
I have legitimately been asked this question, and although the girl who spoke these now infamous words is one of my best friends, I still cringe when I think about this. Here’s another nugget of cultural wisdom for you about the U.K.: we drink a lot. In fact, we are renowned around Europe for being disgusting, binge-drinking louts. Save yourself the embarrassment if you’re even curious about what British drinking habits are like. FYI: we go hard, we’re disgusting, and we drink a lot of hard cider. Not classy at all.
10. “What is a crumpet?”
The trouble here is, apart from the question becoming so repetitive, is that I just don’t know how to describe a crumpet. My befuddled on-the-spot answers have included ‘like some kind of bread with holes in it’ and ‘kind of like a pancake but really fat and holey’. Spare your British friend/crush/stranger from accurately describing the world’s most confusing carbohydrate, and do your research instead. And if you really want to impress them, make some yourself (recipe here), because crumpets are distressingly hard to come by in your average American supermarket.
*If you do happen upon royalty, I suppose number eight wouldn’t necessarily apply. Although I’d try and come up with a more interesting pick-up line if you’re thinking about becoming a member of the Windsor clan.