7 Things Americans Say To British (That You Shouldn’t) 

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things americans say

7 Things Americans Say To British (That You Shouldn’t)

As a Brit who spends more time travelling than actually in Britain, I’ve met a lot of Americans along the way. And the more I meet, the easier it gets to figure out what I’m going to be asked next or what they’ll say to me next. At least during the first conversation.

Some of these things are pretty funny, some of these things are only funny because they’re so monotonous and cliche and other things are old, dry, or offensive.

Americans and Brits are such an interesting case since you have two different cultures coming together who can speak the same language. At first glance, there shouldn’t be that many obstacles or differences, right? You both speak the same language and you’ve both grown up in western societies. Well, that may be true. But the more Americans I’ve met, the more I realise just how different we are. Which is certainly not a bad thing. It’s not particularly a good thing, either. It’s merely an observation that does present itself as an obstacle when a Brit and an American get together.

So let’s check them out!

Note: If you are a culprit of saying any of these things, don’t fear! We’re pretty used to it, because most Americans do. Otherwise, this list wouldn’t exist! In the future, you can try to mix things up a bit!

1. Do You Know My Friend?!

American: Oh, you’re from England? I have a friend in London! John, John Trent. Do you know him?

Honestly one of my favourite/least favourite things Americans say to British people. The UK may look small on the map; London even smaller. But there are still quite a few people who live there. And, believe it or not, a lot of Brits have never been to London. And even more have been there once and would never go back again! It’s definitely one of my least favorite places to be. So probably no, we don’t know your friend in London.

While we’re on the topic of London… Please don’t tell us that you’ve been to the UK, then proceed to say “yeah I went to London for two days”. London is not the UK, contrary to popular belief.

2. I’m Irish too!

I heard this first from my Canadian friend when I was studying in Japan. Actually, this time it wasn’t “Irish” it was “Ukrainian”. We had a mutual Ukrainian friend, and when my Canadian friend met her and found out where she’s from, she said “Oh, I’m Ukrainian too!”, leaving both me and my Ukrainian friend a bit lost for words. So that’s Canada and Ukraine, but I have had this said to me lots as a Brit, too. 

This is problematic for many reasons…

Firstly, we really don’t understand. We will be confused and also feel alienated. You’re there, speaking to me in an American accent, and you’ve previously told me where you’re from in the States… Yet you then proceed to tell me you’re Irish? We don’t want to offend. British people really don’t like offending other people. We wouldn’t dare ask “how does that work?”, let alone say “But I thought you’re American…”. So, chances are, we will spend the next few hours silently pondering it wondering how we missed the fact that you’re not actually American, but Irish.

This is, I suppose, because of our respective countries histories. The US is a relatively new country in terms of modern American history, with various nationalities running through everyone’s veins. In the UK, however, we will generally only consider ourselves to be a different nationality or say “I’m Irish” when we have at least one Irish parent – but even then, we’ll probably say “I’m half-Irish”. So when British people usually say “I’m half-Irish” if one parent is Irish, and an American says “I’m Irish” because their great-great-grandfather is, it is a bit confusing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to be proud of your heritage. But you could consider changing the phrase up a bit, or at least follow up on “I’m Irish” with an explanation about your family.

3. Do You Know the Queen?

Or… Have you ever met the Queen?

There are very few Brits who will be able to answer this positively. My Grandma being one of them! Nevertheless, you can expect the answer to this to be an exacerbated “no…” because really not many of us have ever met the Queen, even though she’s been around for a long time.

Plus, not all of us like her or the Royal Family. So you might accidentally get into a royalist and political debate, if you’re not careful!

Brits will never ask this question to other Brits; it’s really only an American thing.

You might feel your curiosity get the better of you… Well, just hold it in. Plus, I suppose if someone has done something as interesting as meeting the Queen, it will probably come up in conversation by itself at some point.

4. Is It True You All Have Bad Teeth?

If you’re talking to me and ask this question, then I would probably take offence to it…

I never knew about this stereotype until I went abroad and started getting asked this. Now I look back on it, I suppose some Brits do have quite bad teeth. But not that bad…

Nevertheless, I have no reply for you if you ask me this question. What should I say? Yes?

5. Have You Seen My Fanny Pack?

Whatever you do, when you’re in the UK or speaking to a British person, please, please, please do not use the word ‘fanny pack’. Or, ‘fanny’, to be more precise.

It means something entirely different in the UK. It makes me cringe every time I hear Americans say it. And it made me cringe writing it down.

Funnily enough, the replacement word is “bum bag”. Which is entirely normal in the UK. Have fun with that one!

6. I Love Your Accent!

Really nice sentiment, but, unless you’re the first American we’ve ever met, we’ve probably heard it before.

We’re pretty aware that Americans seem to love the British accent. But we’d rather stay quite conspicuous in the background, instead of you pointing out how different we sound…

So while you might have good intentions only, you can leave this one out next time!

And while we’re on accents… We don’t all talk like the Queen, or like we’re from London. In fact, the UK is home to hundreds of accents – some that even we find difficult to understand (Type in Glasgow accent in YouTube if you don’t believe me). It’s really normal in the UK to have an accent that sounds different from the next village. And very few of us speak like the Queen. 4% of us, actually.

7. I’ve Been to Europe!

Let’s get this straight once and for all. Europe is not a country. It’s an entire continent. You’ll never catch a British person saying “I’ve been to the Americas”. Also, when Americans then follow this up with “Yeah I went to Paris”, it is just that tad little more infuriating. Paris, France. (Not Paris, Europe). 

THINGS AMERICANS SAY *BONUS*: DON’T DO THIS

Most of these things came from my own experience, but I had a look on the internet before writing this to see if there was anything I’d missed, and came across something utterly horrifying. Apparently in the US, it is normal to microwave tea?

I don’t know if this is true or not. But please, never, ever, microwave your tea in front of a Brit.

In fact, stop microwaving your tea altogether 🙏.

Final Thoughts

This is not an exhaustive list, and is also not meant to cause offense! Some fun but repetitive things I’ve come across from speaking to Americans I’ve met across the globe.

And don’t get me wrong… There are things Brits shouldn’t say to Americans, too!

I will never forget the time I told my American friend I liked her “Jumper”.

The confused look on her face spoke volumes.

“Sweater. I like your sweater.”

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time travelling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland.

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20 COMMENTS

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for both of your great articles. Very interesting! It has long been common practice to refer to citizens of the United States of America as being “American”, and it is correct to do so. However, any citizen from Canada, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, or any other country in the Americas, are also “Americans”. Yes, US citizens are American, but, they are not the only Americans. That would be like someone from France insisting only French citizens were Europeans. They are Europeans, but , so are members of other European countries. Some may try to say that Canadians are North Americans, which would also be true, but, that would be like referring to the French as Western Europeans. Just a trivial tidbit. Btw, I am a very proud American and a very proud United States Citizen who has had the great pleasure of traveling in every continent to many wonderful countries. Thanks again for the article.

  2. Your handlers in NK will appreciate your criticisms of the US. You better keep it up if you know what’s good for you.

  3. Point taken, but I guess the other side of the coin is “how many guns do you own?” “can you buy me some (fill in whatever consumer item) cheap & mail to me?” (any idea what postage costs?) “have you been to Hollywood?”
    “thank goodness 45 is out of office, what an embarassment” & wow can the flip list go on as well…..

    • Oddly enough, I still sometimes find myself fielding the 40 year old question “Who Shot JR?” In that vein, “Do you think the palace was to blame for Diana’s death?” seems logical.

  4. I was once in London for a corporate shareholder meeting during a labor dispute that was taking place in the US. While working with the local unions on a leaflet to hand out, the phrase that we added about employees being hurt “on the job” elicited laughs all around. We didn’t know it was a slang phrase.

  5. “Do You Know My Friend?!” I remember I once went to a party in Los Angeles where I barely knew anyone and met a friend of the host from Munich and asked her that question (knowing that Munich is a big city, but it is a small world, especially in certain social circles). Anyway, she gave me the same thoughts you have, but then said to ask her boyfriend who was visiting from Munich. Anyway, I asked him and he said that they were buddies as teenagers and had not seen each other in years and wanted to reunite. Well, I go to Munich later that year and reunite old friends. I understand what you are saying, but you never know, it can be a small world.

  6. The “do you know” happens to everyone. I regularly get asked if I know someone’s [insert relation here] named [insert name here] who lived in Manhattan when I’m abroad and people find out I live in the State of New York. That being said, once in London, I DID know the person – had gone to school with them. Now I’m taking my fanny pack and going to heat up my tea in the microwave.

  7. I prefer “Isn’t July 4 the best damn holiday in the history of holidays?” Or “I’ve always loved Princess Di. God how mistreated she was”

    • We were at a July 4th cook-out (or barbecue as we call them) and one friend said, “You don’t have a Fourth of July in England, do you?” I replied “I think so, is it between the third and the fifth?”

  8. My wife and I are English and we lived in the US for eight years. We used to hear all of the above regularly. The “I’m Irish”, or “I’m Italian” or “I’m German” came up regularly and my standard response was “Oh, you don’t have a trace of the accent. How long have you lived here?”
    My favourite come back, when a friend told my wife and I in the local bar that “If it wasn’t for us in World War Two, you’d be speaking German now!” My reply was, “If you hadn’t kicked us out in the 1800s, you’d be speaking English!”

    • I’ll say the “speaking German” thing to the French cuz their pricks and talk trash. I wouldn’t say it to the English.

  9. My first time in the UK, I made damn sure not to make any cracks about the Revolutionary War. I’ve followed that rule on each trip, and will on future ones (assuming BoJo ever allows foreign tourists into the country again).

  10. These are fun to read and, having been to 40150 countries certainly the USA has its quirks vs the rest of the world and we are as easy to point out in Europe as a European is walking through Times Square. Yes we eat peanut butter buy the bucket and the rest of the world balks at it but when someone says Americans, its easy enough to say which ones? Alaskans, Hawaiians, the original settlers and their descendants? People who recently immigrated? My point being 95% of Americans have transplanted from somewhere else. My own heritage being Irish and my wife is Italian.

    I always read how Americans wear sneakers in Europe. Duh, we are on vacation walking 15 miles a day touring. No need to wear office wear walking through the Vatican in 90 degree temps. Anyway, all in good fun. Off to eat a pb&j 🙂

  11. On #1, Americans often do something similar to each other: “Oh, you’re vegan/from Florida/Lutheran/once met Miley Cyrus/went to Bonnaroo/vacation in the mountains/enjoy green vegetables? You might know such and such.” It’s not much fun but for some people it’s just their way. We tend to say “bless their heart” because it’s more charitable than what we’re really thinking.

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