We’re not so different….

Stuff that is different in America, by an Englishman who knows.

Julian Froment and I are always joking about the differences one finds in translation when dealing with British Vs. American Terms. Sometimes they can be maddening, sometimes they can be funny but they are always entertaining.

Hello, Julian. I wanted to ask a few questions about the transition from the UK to the US. I realise that I usually do bookish posts, but I thought this had the potential to be too much fun to pass up. So, let’s talk a little about the differences between the US and the UK. I’m going to give you some cue words and you tell me what you think of, or what experience it reminds you of. This really isn’t as easy as it looks people, bouncing from one country to another. Of course, this is in no way a comprehensive list, but just a few of the things we have experienced.

Hello, Ionia. Thank you for having me here. You are right that it really is not easy bouncing between countries. I have found though that I have begun to find it more difficult to transition back to life in the UK, than in the US though. I have to confess that at first, and that still hasn’t changed in some areas, I found the differences daunting. Fortunately I had a very good guide to lead me through the maze.

Shopping carts/trolleys

All I can really say is that I am glad that there is not a shopping cart driving test you need to pass. I would be hopeless and fail abysmally. I cannot reverse for anything. I am probably much more dangerous with a cart than a car. I am used to the back wheels steering, and appear to have absolutely no ability if they do not.


I have never been a fan of the queue, or the line. I am generally impatient and don’t enjoy waiting. I would however stand forever in a line, were I with you.

Driving on the “right” side of the road

This has to be the biggy. You spend all of your life driving on what you think is the “right” side of the road, only to find that everyone else drives on the right hand side of the road. This took some getting used to, and I am grateful I had some instruction. I am sorry for all the danger that I put you in, Ionia, during those early days. Hopefully I am better now, despite the occasional lapse. I can probably even find my way to Walmart without prompting now.

Strangely though, the biggest transition with driving has to be returning to the UK. Driving in the UK just feels odd now. I cannot describe it better than odd, although weird works pretty well too. I feel myself drawn to the right side of the road far more than I should do. I have even driven on the right/wrong side of the road a few times. Proof positive that I need to be in the US for the safety of UK drivers.


Biscuits and gravy sounded so strange when I first saw it. I made more sense when I realised that biscuits weren’t biscuits and gravy wasn’t gravy as I knew them from the UK. Imagine dunking a cookie in brown gravy to understand my confusion.

The bacon. Well, what a revelation that was. Not the limp, greasy, pink stuff that we have in the UK, but a crispy, delicious, taste sensation. I love the bacon.

I will admit to a couple of minor mishaps in restaurants, such as ordering chips with a meal, when what I actually meant were fries. I am still working on that one.

American coins

You hear the names of the coins in films and so on, and kind of figure you know all about the currency system, but then you get to the US and realise, ‘Shit! I don’t actually know what each one is worth, or which one is which’. Also the dime being smaller than the nickel, but worth more, threw me. I think I have grasped it now, but I still make mistakes. I am but a child still.


I just cannot stop myself saying ‘cheers’ whenever I buy something or am given something. I can see that people are looking at me with these weird expressions, like I am speaking some alien language. I am trying. I shall conquer this. I shall.

parking lots/car parks

Parking lot seems to be one of those phrases that I just cannot get my head around. I always start saying car park and then try to autocorrect and come out with car parking lot. Other than this, and wanting to go in the exit and out of the entrance, not too many problems. It always amazes me the size of the marked bays though, since in general, cars are so much larger than in the UK.


I seem to be commonly mistaken for an Australian. I am not entirely sure why this should be. In fact almost as many people have asked if I am from Australia, as have asked if I am from Britain. I guess I can understand that in some ways. I am particularly useless at identifying accents.

I believe that you were also asked if you were Swiss, or Swedish, at one point too.

your “accent”

Generally I do not think that I have an accent. I am sure everyone thinks that anyone that talks differently is the one with the accent. I have to say that so many people have commented on my ‘accent’. I am always being told that we have such a cool accent. I believe that it has been responsible for many a free coffee for us too.

Fast food experiences

The whole fast food thing has just passed me by. Fast food to me has always meant a sandwich or something, in the car on the way to work, obviously not faster than the speed limit, of course, not that fast. I get caught out every time by the drive-thru, even though they are appearing in the UK much more now. I still find myself looking around for somewhere to park, to go inside and get a coffee or food, even if I can see that the building is tiny. I have to say I like it, when I can manage to use it effectively. Coffee on the run is awesome.

Thanks again, Ionia, for allowing me to talk a little about the differences that I have encountered moving back and forth across the Atlantic. Obviously the solution is that I be allowed to stay in the US, then there will not be so much confusion, or danger on the UK roads.

53 thoughts on “We’re not so different….”

    1. That was just my warped mental image from the name biscuits and gravy. Some things can be confusing though, when you have grown up with one meaning for a word and then you have the same word with a different meaning.


  1. And as if by magic, I managed to go open the left hand door of the car to get in and drive today, when I was at the tip. Thank you again, Ionia, for inviting me to talk about this.


  2. I loved this conversation! I find that since I read quite a bit, most of the different words are unusual for me, but I know what they mean without any problem. I would think the driving thing would be the most difficult though.


    1. I agree, Pam. For me there is such a prevalence of use of US word meanings in books, tv, movies, etc. that I generally know what these things are, but they are not ingrained into me from birth so I have a stutter.


  3. With you on the line thing. Though do you find that having your ‘accent’ seems to give you a pass when you slip with the words? I’ve always wondered if Americans roll with it more often than get confused. Honestly, the differences aren’t that hard to figure out in context.


    1. I think I have to agree with you, Charles. More often the problem will be that they take a word that is different for me but fits in context, such as ‘Would you like fries, chips, salad, potato…with that?’ I hear chips, and the server hears chips, but we mean something different.


      1. This is why I was always patient in retail with anyone that had an accent. Even in the same country, you have word variations. Like soda, pop, cola, or carbonated beverage.


      2. Love how it doesn’t tell me about this comment. I do wonder what kind of soft drinks are found in the UK and how they differ from what we have in the States. I’ve had those Japanese drinks with a ‘marble’ in the top, so I assume every country has something unique.


      3. I am not sure we have any soft drinks here that I haven’t seen in the US, although the packaging may differ. I could be wrong however as I am not very familiar with them. The one big thing like that is sweets (candy?) though. There is an amazing array of different chocolate type bars in the US that I haven’t seen in the UK, although I think a few may be masquerading as something different when they are in fact the same.


  4. don’t forget spelling, things like colour and color, we still use the Queens English and Canada, eh, which causes all kinds of problems with spell checks… I started using the American Slang when I started putting my writing online because people used to tell me I was spelling words such as colour wrong…


    1. The spelling is a very big one, but I avoided that. Since I do not really have to write much whilst in the US it hasn’t been too much of a problem. I do have a US laptop though set up purely as US software and everything (it still says it is 10:29am and it is 6:29pm here), and the desktop I use in the UK is purely set up as UK. It does cause some horrific red underlines sometimes.


  5. Ha! We have a friend visiting from the Netherlands right now, and just last night nearly got into a full-on debate about bacon. She can’t stand our crispy, crispy bacon and laments the lack of the pink, fleshy, fatty stuff. Good to know we’ve got an Englishman on our side in this one.


  6. Liked this. When I was in London I would habitually step off the curb looking the wrong way. One morning there was a horrific screech and the cabbie managed not to mow me down. His only comment,”fucking Yank.” I thanked him for not killing me and he broke into the biggest laugh I have yet to hear again.


    1. I also have done that in the US. I tend to look the wrong way more when I am driving now, whether in the US or the UK. I have to make the effort to look both ways with the same importance.


  7. I flip back and forth between my spelling, word usage and even the accent itself. I’m curious how easily Julian assimilated things around him like the way a person speaks or their terminology. For me, personally, it’s like a light switch and the longer I’m around the people the thicker/easier it gets. I’ve got a mini me that does fear me more when I go full Brit.


    1. I think it depends on exactly what they are talking about and the situation. Mostly I don’t think I have been not too bad, Ionia, may disagree here, but some things still throw me, especially things like pants, chips, etc. It certainly gets easier to understand the more time you spend with people.


      1. Be lucky you didn’t spend too much time in southern US. They not only have their own accents I believe there is a whole new language and after over a decade here I feel out of sorts.
        Is there one particular thing Ionia relentlessly teased you over? I’m rather curious


      2. I have to say that I cannot think of one particular thing that Ionia has teased me badly over. She has been wonderful helping me adjust and get a handle on things. Ionia may have different recollections of my naivety and ignorance though 🙂


  8. I enjoyed this very much. I often wondered how difficult it would be for someone not from the U.S. to get used to things here. Obviously the driving was the first thing that came to mind being that we drive on opposite sides of the road. What I don’t have an explanation for is how someone could confuse an English accent with a Swiss / Swedish accent, the English / Australian confusion I could see…at least a little bit. I’m sure that someday when I have the honor of travelling to the U.K. I will have my own difficulties, but until then it is nice to hear your experiences. I hope you both are well.


    1. I am glad you liked it. I have to agree, Dom. We have no explanation for the Swiss/Swedish confusion either. English/Australian kind of makes a little more sense, like you say. I hope that you share your experiences if you make it to the UK. I would be interested if there is a US/Australian confusion here. I know I have difficulties sometimes with accents. If I am in the country you will have to look me up 🙂


  9. Here’s one I just stumbled on… I was explaining to my writer’s group here in Glasgow that my niece back in the States had us in stitches with the catnip bubbles for her cat. Twelve mouths gasped. Twenty-four eyes got a bit glassy. Just as 120 fingers were reaching to dial PETA, someone said that it was NOT funny to give champagne to cats. “Or to put catnip in it.” All shuddered.

    In England: bubbles=champagne. In America: bubbles=child’s soap toy, also much in demand for weddings and teenagers smoking joints.


    1. Lol!!!! I love it. It’s funny how even after being in the US for a few years I still confuse people when I speak. I guess the British proper is ingrained. I’m still learning too, just the other way around:)


  10. Who canNOT like bacon cooked crispy?! Even as a child the dime confused me. Not sure if i ever grew out of that one. thank heavens for the debit card. i almost never deal with cash anymore. Even our parking meters take cards now.


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