Travel

America vs Britain: Differences you didn’t know

There are many differences when it comes to America vs Britain. Being a Brit and then living in the USA I got to see many of the differences first hand. What was initially frustrating became comical after a while and then just the norm.

The same can be said of the reverse. After many years of residing in the USA, I moved back to Britain to a healthy dose of ‘reverse culture shock.’

Living in the states for so many years meant that I had become more accustomed to the ways and habits of American daily life, which made some of our British habits and customs seem all the more strange. 

This article is to help anyone visiting Britain to understand some of the common and sometimes unexpected differences that you may encounter. 

america vs britain

Basic Language Differences

The language oddities in England can be hard to grasp when it comes to America vs Britain. Even though both countries speak English the nuances and different uses of words can be confusing. Here are a few examples of words with different meanings or uses.

BritishAmerican
LiftElevator
DinnerLunch
TeaDinner
ChipsFries
CrispsChips
BootTruck
BonnetHood
Garbage or TrashRubbish
Eh, Sorry, Pardon?Hah, Excuse me?
HolidaysVacations

Lots of words are spelled differently

american vs british spelling

In addition to the different words that are used for certain things, there are many variances in spelling too. In Britain, there is a ‘U’ in almost everything. Colour, honour, neighbour, etc. Even double ‘l’s are not present in the spelling of many American words like jewellery, or travelling. 

Legal Drinking Age

The Brits are somewhat known for their love of booze and maybe that is not a coincidence. In Britain, the legal age to go into a pub and buy a pint is 18 years old, a few years lower than the 21 years required by law in the USA.

Many an American kid has been known to come over on their holiday (that’s ‘vacation’ to you!) and taken full advantage of the lower legal age limit for drinking.

Food isn’t always what you think

american and british food

Food and its name can differ not only between American vs Britain but also depending on where the country you are. For example, a simple bread cake (burger bun), can be called a bread bun, bap, or a barm cake depending on the region of Britain that you are visiting. 

British homes have letterboxes, not mailboxes

All British houses have a handy flap in the middle of their front door for the postman to put letters through. No walking to the end of the drive for us to collect the mail, which incidentally in Britain we call ‘the post’.

Healthcare

If you have an accident or need medical care in the UK you do not need to pay into a private health care plan to receive attention. Simply go to the A&E (or the E.R) and wait to see a medical professional.

You will not be billed for the service but the downside to this free healthcare is that it is somewhat overburdened so wait times can be lengthy. In America vs Britain, healthcare may not always be better, but it is definitely cheaper

More vacation time in Britain

vacation time in the UK

A plus to living and working in Britain is the number of holidays (yes, ‘vacation’, you’re getting it!) time that workers are allowed. Most workers in Britain receive 5 weeks paid holiday time as a matter of course and can take them as they see fit. 

Many people go away for 3 or 4 weeks at a time. This holiday allowance also does not include sick days, personal days, or bank holidays, of which there are several throughout the year.

Can’t turn on the air conditioning

Not that Britain is known for tropically hot days but there are one or two (if we are lucky!) days during the summer that some air – conditioning would be a blessing. If you are visiting from the USA you may be disappointed to find that AC does not come as standard in many British homes. 

We focus instead on installing central heating as it is much needed in the colder months. If you are lucky enough to have rented a car you will find that most models now thankfully have AC as standard.

Tipping for service isn’t as common

tipping in USA vs UK

Tipping is ever-present in America and has become culturally accepted in the mainstream, Not quite so in the UK. In America vs Britain, the latter is the lower tipper of the two.

We will give a small tip to a taxi driver or a hairdresser but tipping in restaurants is nowhere near the 20% expected in the USA. 

For a good meal out any tip left will be for excellent service and even then will only total around 10% of the bill. 20% is virtually unheard of. Many people will round up the bill to the nearest 5 pounds or just leave a few quid.

Don’t worry, you will not be chased down in the car park (parking lot) by an irate waiter as the expectation to receive a tip just isn’t the custom. 

The same is true of bars. In the states, people will leave a dollar or two each time a drink is poured. Not so in Britain, if you go out and order drinks at the bar all night long without ever leaving a tip no-one will bat an eye-lid.

Of course use some common sense, if you are at a very high-end establishment with table service or out in a very large group then a tip may be prudent to keep the drinks coming in a timely manner. 

Brits love to piss!

Literally, we do! Meaning that we love the word for its expression and versatility and Brits will use it in a variety of different ways to describe different actions, emotions or events.

It can mean to go for a pee (go for a piss), it can mean raining hard (pissing down), being mad (pissed off), or to be drunk (pissed), or planning to get drunk (go for a piss up!).

No bathrooms or restrooms, just toilets

British and American bathrooms or toilets

Speaking of peeing, the British haven’t quite bought into the avoidance of the word ‘toilet’ in the same way as Americans have. Typically in the USA, you would ask for the location of the restroom or the bathroom.

In Britian, people will ask where the toilet or the loo is. If you are somewhere upmarket then you may say the ‘ladies’ or the ‘gents’ instead.       

Brits live in fear of random conversations

The reputation for privacy and stoicism is well-founded in Britain. When travelling on a bus or a train or simply waiting in a queue (on line) we do not feel the need to politely strike up a random conversation with the person next to us.

Actually, we cringe inwardly at the thought of someone having a casual chat with us lest we have to feign politeness and pretend to be interested. Overall the Brits aren’t a chatty sort so don’t feel obliged to talk. 

Houses are smaller

british smaller houses vs america

Most Americans are horrified at the small room sizes and lack of space in most British houses. Not surprising when you think that a common terraced house can probably fit in a newer American home at least twice over.

Homes generally are much larger in the states probably as they have much more available land to build on. There are an amount of smaller homes or townhomes further north in areas like New England, or expensive and populated areas such as San Francisco.

But in America vs Britain, houses are quite on the large side in the USA compared to their British counterparts. 

Food portions are smaller

It is not just houses that are smaller. Food portions are not nearly as big in Britain vs America. As a culture, we simply try to provide the correct portion size per person – not a plate big enough to feed 3. 

This, in turn, probably accounts for the fact that you will rarely see doggie bags/to-go boxes in this country. There usually isn’t enough left over to take any home to eat later. 

Drive throughs are rare

A nice convenience that can be enjoyed in America is the good old drive-through. Banks, restaurants, coffee shops, and even liquor stores provide a drive-through service in the USA. It is not so common here in Britain. 

Apart from McDonald’s and other fast food outlets you should really only expect to see drive-throughs at coffee shops and hardly ever at banks or anywhere else.

Sadly in America vs Britain, the Brits lose. We have to drag ourselves out of the car the old fashioned way, go into the shop, and order at the counter.

No ice – ever!

For those Americans visiting Britain that are not aware there is a MASSIVE water shortage in this country so we just cannot afford to waste any on ice cubes for drinks.

Ok, that’s not true, but what is true is that drinks will only come with a cube or 2 of ice if you are lucky, and you will usually have to ask for it. America wins vs Britain hands down in the ‘ice wars’.

24-hour shops are less common

24 hour stores and shops america vs britain

America generally seems to cater to the needs of its people when it comes to shopping. There are a plethora of supermarkets, stores, coffee shops, fast food places and restaurants that remain open around the clock.

Here in Britain, there are fewer places that offer 24-hour service. Maybe our lower population doesn’t support extended hours of operation, but if you are visiting here then the only places you will find open late night are large supermarket chains.

Brits put everything in a sandwich

We love our sarnies or sandwiches in this country. So much so we will stick anything we can get our hands on between 2 slices of bread. Bacon butties are a firm favourite the country over and posh fish finger sandwiches have become commonplace – trust me, you will just have to try one.

The humble sandwich is a staple of the British diet and a sandwich of some combination or another is always acceptable as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or supper (we have an extra meal per day in this country, probably due to the smaller restaurant portions!). 

Summary

So there you have some of the differences you may experience when visiting Britain from the USA. The language is the same but the meanings can be very different. Thankfully we are basically a helpful lot so if you get stuck, just ask, a friendly Brit will no doubt be happy to assist. Happy travels!

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1 Comment

  1. Alex Anaya says:

    Great article!

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