Finding America

Me and Tarah

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Guest Post by The Expat Hub. 

If you’ve ever visited the USA as a Brit then there’s a very high chance that you will have been asked at least one bizarre question from one of your cousins from across the Atlantic. Whether they comment on your funny accent or make you roll yours eyes by their lack of geographic knowledge, as a tourist you will only be there for a short time. If you go to the US as an expat however, it’s a whole new kettle of fish (weird British saying). After all you intend to spend (possibly) the rest of your life in the States so you can bet your bottom Dollar (a weird US saying) that you will be faced with all of the following misconceptions. As the famous Brit saying goes, keep calm and carry on!

1. Brits have no emotions
It is a common misconception that the British have the same emotionally repressed personas of the Vulcans from Star Trek. The reason why the Americans and the rest of the world think this is probably due to literature and the UK’s history as imperialists. The British stiff upper lip is often mocked by US comedies and television and it’s no coincidence that the villains of many a Hollywood movie are of course British.

2. All Brits know the Royal Family
Weirdly, for a country that celebrates the day when it kicked out the British monarchy in its struggle for independence, the USA is fascinated by the Royal family. Perhaps they are intrigued by what used to be and with what they lost with their independence? Who knows? Chances are, though, that you as a British expat will be asked at some point whether you personally know the Royals. Bizarrely, many US citizens seem to believe that Queen Liz 2 is best mates with all of her subjects. To a newly arrived expat it can seem a bit... well, odd.

3. All Brits live in London and are posh
Whether you hail from Northampton, Plymouth or Cardiff, most Americans will immediately jump to the conclusion that you are actually from London. In fact, it’s been heard that some Americans believe that London is a country in its own right! Another common misconception that you will have to endure is being asked about your accent. Most Americans believe that all Brits are either posh or Cockney. Any other regional accent and you are likely to be confused for an Australian or New Zealander.

4. All Brits are sophisticated or pompous
This stereotype once again harks all the way back to the days of the Red coats and the empire and is often reinforced in American movies and TV programmes. Whilst there certainly are some pompous Brits, there are certainly a large number of unsophisticated ones as well. British tourists aren’t infamous for being rowdy or rude for no reason after all.

5. All Brits have terrible teeth
Strangely the Americans seem to have a fascination with British people's teeth, with Brits often depicted in US media as having awful dentures. As an expat you may be asked some rather personal questions about your gob. Once again keep calm and etc etc...

This post was brought to you by The Expat Hub, a site dedicated to providing expatriate support, advice and information.

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  1. #4 makes me think of the that show the Royle Family ..which would be probably the far oposite of Pompous. However not a programme that made BBC America.

    I dont know if this would add well to this list or not...but something to the fact that all people in England have a british accent. Since 'British' is not an accent and not everyone has the same type of accent.

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

  2. Ha! How true! You touched on such a great issue - well written, thanks.

    I've never lived in the States, but have:

    1) Had the 'pleasure' of spending time with an American whilst on a Greek island (I live in Greece now). He kept ON AND ON about my "Awwwwwwwsommmmmmme accent babe!"


    2) Travelled across the States on the Green Tortoise bus tour. When in Galveston, Texas, was greeted by a very friendly 20 something young lady who said (and I quote) "Awesome, you're, like, from England? So, like, is England by the sea?"

  3. Ha ha yeah people here sometimes assume I am intimately acquainted with the Royals. After they drone on about how lovely the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress is etc etc I sometimes just crack and say 'look, in the UK the royal family is just a bit a of a joke' and watch them get really upset.

  4. Bonnie Rose, I'm guilty myself of generalizing one's accent. On this blog I will typically refer to an American accent or a British accent, though I will usually caveat my sentence with "in general".

    Bex Hall, I was once asked "is England in London, or how does that work?"

    EmmaK, do you ever get the sense that Americans care more about the Royals than do the British?

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  5. Oh dear! You've just reminded me of the
    "Do all English say 'Ta ta' all the time?" comment! It's difficult to roll my eyes as the people who delivered the comments seemed genuinally nice - if not vaguely naive.

  6. My favourite stereotype is the bad teeth! I had to explain it to my husband as he couldn't understand some of the American depictions. Just think about Mr. Bottom-tooth or whatever his name is in Family Guy.

    I'm still disappointed to discover the English don't say "pip pip cherrio"!

    Erin x
    Quintessentially English

  7. My British husband here in America is from London, he thinks he is sophisticated, has terrible teeth and has no emotions.

  8. Re: #5 -- My English genes are quite dominant, one sign of which is that I drink tea constantly; therefore, my teeth (though quite good) could do with a bleaching, I must admit!

  9. @Jean
    I still say that a love of beans on toast is a greater indicator of "British-ness" than any amount of tea drinking.

  10. After 25 years here, I'm tired of people saying "I love your accent." So now I say in reply "Oh, I love yours!" I then step back and watch their bewilderment

  11. @Anonymous
    I am American born to a British Mom and I LOVE beans on toast :-)

  12. In a MBA class we were actually taught that the accents of London alone were so varied that a Londoner would not only be able to identify where another Londoner grew up but also what social class they belonged to.

    Do people ever assume you know Colin Firth? I'd probably rather know him than the royal family (no offense royal family).

  13. Back when I worked in San Francisco, I used to get asked where I was from , as soon as I said Liverpool , they would launch into a complete history of the Fab four. ... and how much they made an impact on their lives and did I know any of them. (my dad was a friend of George Harrison, but I used to avoid mentioning that.) .. After a while I decided to say " I don't like the Beatles." Try it sometime..... the sound of jaws hitting the floors well worth the outpouring of indignation afterwards.

  14. Well, in Australia, anyone English is generally considered to be either (a) a Ten-Pound Pom (immigration marketing scheme from the 50s-80s) or (b) sick of not having any summer and overcompensating by moving somewhere with too much summer. If you were to ask people to 'do and English accent', most would either do something Queen-or-Stephen-Fry-like, or something ridiculously Cockney-ish - how they manage this when every second or third person you run across has either an estuary accent or some form of northern is beyond me.

    I got so fed up with the lack-of-geographic-knowledge thing when we were over in the US that I started carrying around and pen, bit of paper, and rough sketch of (a) Australia, (b) the rest of the world, and (c) the British Isles, when we were over there. Reactions ran the whole spectrum from "Oh, I didn't know New Zealand was that far away!" to "You're very close to Sydney, aren't you?" (Well, no, it's 3 days by car) to "Why is there so much nothing in the middle there?" (Well, yes, it's largely uninhabitable) to "So where's London?" to "What's that blob there?" (It was the Hutt River Province. I can forgive people for not knowing about that one, even if it is the second-largest country on the continent) to "I didn't realise you were that independent!" (this came up twice - once when discussing the new Australian National Curriculum [I'm not sure whether that person thought we used some sort of national London curriculum or something] and once when showing the map [no, Australia isn't part of the British Isles]. Yes, we even had a [failed] referendum about a decade ago. Just because Australia isn't a republic doesn't mean it isn't a nation in its own right).

    Sadly (or happily, not sure which), my family actually does have legitimate connections to the Royals (my father being a toff who decided he didn't like anything to do with English, the weather, or being posh, and 'absconded to the Colonies', to quote my grandmother), and most of these stereotypes do actually apply to my father and most of my relatives.

    Except for the one about the teeth. That I do not understand. At least one of my cousins in the UK has had orthodontic work, for heaven's sake!


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