Saturday, November 12, 2011

USA/UK - Quirky Differences (no astrology)

Surfing the net, I came across Ask MetaFilter. There a question was posed by an author seeking information to assist in his novel featuring an ex-patriot. The question concerned "quirky" differences between life in the USA and life in UK/Europe: What Are America's Quirks?

I'm just starting my eighth year here in the US. Practically every item in the long list contributed by readers at Ask MetaFilter have been "itches I needed to scratch" at one time or another - and certain of them still get to me. A nap selection, with additions of my own, follows:


Power sockets/electrical plugs are very flimsy compared to UK ones - the prongs bend and get hot.

Wall electrical sockets have no switches; just plug in and go.

Small appliances tend to break or wear out much faster here than in the UK, and cannot be repaired.

Switches go UP for ON rather than down as in the UK....this still confuses me!


American cheese is different from that readily available in the UK - it's plastic-like, tasteless, synthetic.

Most bread in the USA tastes far too sweet. Baked goods in general are much sweeter than I'd been used to.

Candies/chocolate bars are full of corn syrup. A Cadbury or Kit Kat bar tastes significantly different from the yummy original version available in the UK.

In the USA simple is out - they need sprinkles, additions, double the flavour, then add even more - especially in varieties of ice cream.

Everyone here (except me) eats with one hand, and a fork only. Sometimes there's a switch-fork-to-left-hand-pick-up-knife-in-right-cut-up-food-then-switch-fork-back-to-right-hand thing going on to deal with tough items.

Complimentary iced tap-water served at most restaurants as routine.

Americans have a love affair with ice - room temperature for a cold drink is a definite no-no.

Complimentary coffee refills in restaurants.

In some states/counties you can't buy booze in supermarkets.

Butchers seem to joint meat differently here. Beef is sometimes cut with the grain instead of against it, making it stringy (in pot roasts).

Bacon, as in back rashers, doesn't exist here, there is only that similar to British-type streaky and it's cooked until hard, or if lucky, crisp.

I still haven't sampled southern delicacies such as collard greens, grits, fried pies (or as pronounced in these parts "frahd pahs"), a strange kind of "sausage gravy" that looks (and probably tastes) like wallpaper paste, or mountain oysters (bull or lamb testicles). I have regularly eaten several kinds of squash, corn pone/corn bread, fried okra, also "biscuits" which are not the same as UK biscuits (those are cookies here), but are like savoury very light scones - good when warm. I could go on, but better not!


Fewer small cars, more SUVs and trucks.

No roundabouts.

Mandatory STOP signs at nearly every intersection in rural areas

Sidewalks/footpaths are practically non-existent.

Walking is thought "rather odd", one might even be stopped by the cops if spotted strolling along a residential area.

Huge cities have no real "citycentre" as they do in the UK.

The sheer size of the country, and the open spaces, especially in mid-USA: Oklahoma, Kansas etc.

Drive-through everythings. Drive-through ATMs, drive-through bank tellers, drive-through pharmacies, drive-through liquor stores in some states....although in our state you can't keep bought liquor in the car - it has to go in the trunk/boot.


Lots of of TV advertising for prescription medications - with yards of disclaimers re possible side effects.

Many Americans think that nationalized healthcare is the literal equivalent of becoming Bolshevik.

Middle-class here means something different from the way it's understood in the UK. It sometimes seems that, if you're not living under a bridge in a cardboard box, you're middle-class.

"Socialist" or "socialism" are dirty, dirty words - profane almost.

There's a fear of medical bills for anyone without VERY inclusive, VERY expensive insurance.

The democrat/republican thing is vicious (in spite of the fact that there's not much to choose between 'em - most people in the US haven't yet caught on to that yet!)

Anything involving the government (immigration procedures in particular) is like making a trip to Nazi Germany.

American flags are everywhere.

The generic veneration of "freedom" as a distinctly American virtue - as though every other country in the world is under some kind of totalitarian yoke.

American exceptionalism taken as a given.

Tune of UK national anthem God Save the Queen has alternate lyrics, and Land of Hope and Glory has different lyrics, used at graduation ceremonies.


The pervasiveness of religion in USA life, and in politics continues to shock me. Europeans and Brits know that Americans are religious, but unless you live here you don't get a sense for how pervasive it is. God, or "I'm blessed" or "bless you" or "have a blessed day" or "what church do you attend?" enter conversation frequently.


While newcomers may be familiar with American celebrities, journalists, politicians, and geography from it's broader worldwide audience, most people in the US have no clue about equivalent sundries from other countries.

Money: bills/notes are all the same color and size irrespective of value.

Dates are written differently from everywhere else in the world. Instead of day/month/year, or year/month/day, in the USA dates are written as month/day/year).

Massive thrift stores, "antique" malls, frequent yard sales and estate much STUFF!

There is no direct equivalent to a newsagent's shop....a staple of British life (or used to be)!

What is termed "historic" here is vastly different from the way "historic" is understood in UK and Europe.


Wisewebwoman said...

Hi T:
Even in Canada, 40 years ago, it took me a long time to master the lingo.
The vastness of the land. The underground living in Toronto (in the midst of winter snow, I could leave my house in a summer dress, park my car underground, take the elevator up to work and shop for the family underground without ever seeing daylight except through office windows).
Not much religosity here which is a bonus and the universal health care better than Ireland which has a 2-tier system.
But I miss the choccy biccies and the sugar-free cereals and the BEST potato crisps (Tayto) and even the coffee which always tastes better and no GM products in the supermarkets which always looks so much prettier (and smaller) with their pastries and deli sections so inviting.
I could go on.

aussiechick said...

Wow I had to laugh reading your post today. I left a post some years ago, but not much else since, although i am a regular reader of blog. I am Australian and go through the same feelings of the bread being sweet, the wine being fruitier (its not sweeter) and pretty much the same stuff that I miss back home.
My name is Amantha and I live in California where we can buy grog (booze) in the local supermarket.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Oh - I didn't know about the underground living in Toronto! Wow!!

I suppose Canada has absorbed more of the British/Irish-ness and it will have been a lot less diluted than in this vast and diverse nation.

the onl;y cheese I enjoy is Canadian - Black Diamond cheddar, Platinum Reserve, which we can buy at Sams Club (big brother of Walmart unfortunately. But needs must.

I miss McVities Digestives, with and without the choccy. And Heinz salad creme.....there are dozens of types of salad dressing on the shelves but none quite hits the spot like Heinz, for me.

There are some compensations - of course. ;-)

Twilight said...

aussiechick ~~ hi Amantha! Nice name!

It's interesting that you miss stuff too - and feel much the same about these sundry quirky differences.

I didn't arrive here until I was in my early 60s so the "old ways" were pretty much ingrained into my being. I'm coming around from the culture shock, albeit gradually.


aussiechick said...

Oh good old culture shock, big fan of going through that myself. I have been here just short of six years. Its been a rollercoaster ride if i do say so. Recently separated after 15 years, so its really scary now. But I will get through this too, after all I have already been through the ringer, so I say BRING IT ON!!

Twilight said...

aussiechick ~~~~ You sound ready to face anything that comes along -well done you! Good luck and happy trails. :-)

Rossa said...

Yes the term historic is something that there are a lot of tales about in the UK. Including a reported comment from an American visitor who couldn't understand why Windsor Castle had been built under a flight path into Heathrow!

I had similar problems when visiting the US when discussing family trees or the age of some villages, buildings etc in England (my village here was originally a Viking settlement and my Scottish family tree goes back nearly 1500 years).

Though what always amuses me is the American who knows someone living in London and asks me if I know him/her??? And has no idea about the rest of the country. I met an American lady with her teenage daughter in Venice who had 'done' Europe including London in 3 days and now knew all about how we live etc in our country/countries.

I guess most of us forget that the US is a continent (as is Europe for any Americans visiting) so it is hardly surprising how insular things can be when people hardly know what's going on in their own 'backyard'.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~~ Hi!
LOL! Yes, the "historic" thing can be comical at times. Nearly every small/tiny town in these parts (S.W. Oklahoma) has what they term an "historic downtown area". Most consist of a handful of shops on each side of a street, often abandoned, sometimes in very bad repair - though occasionally well-kept and reasonably lively, but with no building much older than 1890, and most dating from the 1900s. Ah well - one man's historic is another man's last week. ;-)

People in the US don't need to travel outside the country at all, though many do. There's just so much diversity here. It'd take a lifetime to discover it all.

Erm - but the continent is actually North America. USA is one of its countries. (I'm sure you knew that though - I'm not trying to be clever - not possible, too hard !)

North America, the planet’s 3rd largest continent, includes (23) countries and dozens of possessions and territories. It contains all Caribbean islands and Central America countries, Canada, Mexico, the United States of America, as well as Greenland - the world’s largest island.

Positioned in the planet's northern and western hemispheres, it's bordered in the north by the Arctic Ocean, in the east by the Atlantic Ocean, in the southeast by the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and in the west by the Pacific Ocean.

Vanilla Rose said...

And our politicians insist that the UK and the USA are best buddies, until of course you want to play a film that wasn't released over here on your British DVD player. And all of a sudden, you are in Region 2 and your best buddies and military allies in the US/Canada do not want outsiders playing their Region 1 discs!

Don't worry, there are ways round it. ;)

If memory serves, "Incubus", probably the only full length film ever made in esperanto, is available as a Region 0 disc, which will play anywhere. William Shatner is in it. I also own a video of "Plan Nine from Outer Space".

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~~ Yes, that issue used to irritate me too....going in the opposite direction of course. I bought an "all regions" DVD player because of the problem. It wasn't overly expensive (around $50 I think) and it works a treat on DVDs from wherever. :-)