Living in America
When I first arrived in the USA it seemed inevitable that there would be some "Huh?" moments, when I said words that the local didn't understand and they used words that perhaps I knew but wouldn't necessarily have been my first choice.
But what I found a little staggering was that there were many many more words that I would have imagined that are different, and you don't find out what some of them are until you've been there two to three years. Odd, obscure words that suddenly pop out in conversation turn out to be not-for-general-use on the other side of the pond.
Everyone knows the obvious ones, for example trousers are pants, a pavement becomes a sidewalk, a nappie is a diaper and you'd get into an elevator and not the lift anymore.
But I made a list of all the more obscure ones - the ones you don't discover until you immerse yourself into their culture for a bit. And form the list comes a whole new world of customs and cultures too, and here they all are ...
Familiarise yourself first ...
Get to grips with the USA first though! I discovered the excellent 'place the state' game, which is one of those things that you'll think you'll try once, and then get sucked in and play it for the next 20 minutes trying to get a perfect 100%.
USA - Play the excellent 'Place the state' game
UK - And once you think you've cracked that, try placing all the English counties in their proper place
So I made a list. This webpage started out at a big list of words that are different between British English and American English. Then I found out that someone had already done it and rather well too. Please go and have a look at the English2American.com site, which also has the brilliant 'What's the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom' page, explained for all of those that don't know. Oh and the fact that our date format is superior too.
The # key on the keyboard is called the pound. Nothing to do with the Uk pound sign. Calling # it's proper name hash gets them looking at you as if you're making a weird drug reference.
Driving any where throws up so many, it's hard to know where to start. The bonnet becomes the hood, the boot becomes the trunk, even wing mirrors become side mirrors. You don't have indicators either, you now have turn signals. Traffic light? Don't be silly - they're the stop lights.
Food & Drink
Everyone know the basics .. like sweets are called candy, crisps are known as chips and biscuits are called cookies. But to an American (especially a southerner) a biscuit is also some pasty-scone-like cake thing to which I can think of no UK equivalent.
Their Bacon is weird. You can't get nicely thick and widely cut Danish. Think and streaky seems to be the order of the day. Their eggs are generally more white than brown. And whilst their bread seems to last longer before going mouldy, the slices are just that much smaller than your typical Mothers Pride loaf. Oh, and they have no idea what a crumpet is either, and I have no idea how to best describe it. (No, it's not the same as an English muffin. Incidentally, in the UK, English Muffins are just called 'Muffins'. That's a joke)
Food, dining and eating throws up so many anomalies it's hard to know where to start. Crockery for one is more commonly known as flatware. And when you're in a nice restaurant you'll open up with a Starter in England, but Americans wouldn't know that that's what they call an Appetizer. And when you've finished that nice meal, don't use a serviette to wipe your face after you've eaten - no, you'll be using a napkin instead.
Don't order a pudding either. You have to order a dessert. To Americans, pudding is a type of dessert, not aa generica name for one.
Root vegatables seem to be an ares where there are lots of different names - an aubergine is known as an eggplant, corgette's as zuchinni's and a swede is known as rutabega. This causes endless amount of amusment to Americans to think that 'Swede' could be a food, a not just ... a person from Sweden. Squash is Marrow. It took me three years of living in the USA to realise this, but still didn't help me like eating it. I would say Coriander, an American would say Cilantro. I would also say Rocket, whereas an American would say Arugla.
Because American thrives on coffee, coffee and more coffee, I often had to take into work my own tea. Now down in the South of American they do have tea, but it's of the cold sweet tea variety, and some American's act surprised here when they see my drinking tea ... "Oh, you drink HOT tea", they say, like that's unusual. Well ... drinking cold tea to me is unusual, oh and downright disgustingly untasty too. Even when I did make hot tea, and wanted to put milk into it .. there's no such thing as semi-skimmed, no it's called two percent milk instead.
So I used to get up in the morning and make some tea, drink one at home and then put one on my flask to take to work to drink mid-morning. Except don't say flask to an an American, use the word Thermos instead, because a flask is something that you would only put liquor in. And by liquor I mean spirits - see 'alcohol' below.
Canola Oil is Rapeseed oil. A baked potato to an Amerian is one that's been sunbathing, you'll have to say jacket potato.
Granola is Muesli. Jelly is Jello.
Porterhouse steak Sirloin steak
Powdered Sugar Icing Sugar
Mince Meat is known as Ground Beef.
Rump steak is a Sirlin Steak
Stock cube (like OXO) becomes a boullion cube
Prawns are known as Shrimp. Southerners like to eat a dish which I didn't like called 'Shrimp & Grits', where grits was like .. a werid porridgey substance which wasn't actually porridge. Whatever, everytime someone rolled out the Shrimp & Grits, I was all like "Ah, it's Prawns & Porride again".
What I would call a Spring Onion, the yanks call a Scallion. I'm not sure that anyone in the UK eats semolina anymore, but if they did the Americans call it Cream of Wheat. A friend of mine found the word 'semolina' particular funny, saying it sounded like the nae of a cream you'd use to cure a sexual disease.
Other random words which confuse things: Going to the fairground? Be sure to get some Cotton Candy and not Candy Floss. Cops here are famous for eating Donuts and not Doughnuts. And treacle for some reason, is know as Molasses. No really it is, and I don't know why they had to change a perfectly good word either.
Blame it on the French!
There are some words which Americans just haven't heard of at all. Once I turned to a friend and said "Ooh, I'd like a nice Gâteaux" - as in the cake, and they had no idea what I was talking about. Gâteaux of course is a word that the English have borrowed from the French, and thus Americans have rarely heard of it, and certainly never use it.
I had the same problem with being "Au fait" (familar) with something, or travelling as a group "en masse" to somewhere. "On a WHAT?" came back the American-English response.
There are so many word difference with cars, it's unreal. Once you've gotten over the fact that Americans drive on the wrong side of the road, you realise that a Fender is a bumper, the hood is the bonnet and the trunk is the boot. And just to really confused things, the arge yellow metal device that costs you several pounds of dollars to get you car released is what they call a boot and we call a clamp.
Tyre is spelt with an 'i' Tire, you fill up with gas, not petrol and even poor old wing-mirrors have turned into side mirrors. Oh, and make a turn? You would use your turn signal and not your indicator. In some places, I've even heard roundabout referred to as "rotarys", aaaah!
Finally ... when you go to fill up with gas (petrol) as the gas station, the Brits use the word forecourt to describe the area of the tarmac where your car sits as you pump it full of gas. The Americans have NO SUCH equivalent word - it's just part of the gas station.
Types of car ... What the Americans called a Station Wagon, I would call an Estate Car. And what I would call a Saloon, they would call a sedan.
Other parts of the car ... The emergency brake to me is known as the handbrake, turn signals I would call indicators. Americans have fenders instead of wings. Which is why we call the mirros on the side ... wing mirrors, which they just called side mirrors. And when your battaery is flat and you get a jump start? They use Jumper Cables instead of Jump Leads.
To make your radio work, the it has to be plugged into an Aeriel which the Americans would call an Antenna.
On the road ... What i call the hard shoulder, Americans just call the shoulder. What they call an overpass I refer to as a fly-over.
And when you don't have a car but need to drive one you would hire one in Engand, but in American you would rent one. If you say 'Hire Car' in America, they'll think you're saying 'HIgher Car', and wonder just how high cars can go ...
Flat Tire Puncture
Turn Signals Indicators
Shoulder (Driving) Hard Shoulder
Side Mirrors Wing Mirrors
Median Central Reservation
Garter Belts Suspenders
Jumper Cables Jump Leads
Spot the Difference, Video
During a trip back to England at Christmas 2008, I shot some quick fun bits on video to highlight some of the differences between the UK and the USA ...
In the home
To buy your nice new house in the first place you wouldn't use an Estate Agent, oh no! You must use a local Realtor, which I think is one of the most silliest words that Americans use.
All that junk lying around in your house ... where you gonna put it? That's right, in your British Loft which is the American Attic.
If you fancied playing with a football at home in England, you might go for a kick about in your Back Garden, which to an American is your Back Yard. And talking of playing football ...
If you ask for a Powerpoint they'll think you're talking about the Microsoft application as if it's an object. Just ask for the nearest Electric Socket instead.
Underlay becomes Carpet Pad.
Screw Anchor Rawl Plug
When at a football game (by which I mean American football, and not soccer which is real football), I totally confused someone by asking if I could walk across the pitch. I was of course referring to the field. Pitching is something that a punter does. But when I explained that to me a punter was someone who attended a concert or gig, this drew bizarre looks.
In the world of more dangerous sports, abseiling to me means to dangle yourself down a rope off the side of a cliff. The Americans however calling this rappeling. Turns out the word is apparently derived from the German abseilen, meaning simply “to rope down.”.
They don't do Christmas Crackers. 'nuff said. And there are Americans out there right now reading this thinking 'What the hell are Christmas Crackers"? Brilliant. Oh, and don't expect a batter/yorkshire pudding either with your gravy. You're going to get a weird sweet potato and marshmellow combo mix instead, duh.
What we call Father Christmas they always call Santa Claus. And don't expect to get the day off of work after Christmas either - there's no Boxing Day. For a country which is so big and people actually need the extra time to travel to see family for Christmas, it's odd that you only get the one day off for Christmas.
Britian have Fairy Lights whilst the USA just call 'em Christmas Lights. And Mince Pies become sweet pies. When you get your Wrapping Paper out to cover up that gift, the Americans are more familar with the phrase Gift Wrap.
They also don't "do" pantomine. The word isn't really used, and the concept of getting have-been celebs to dress up for the Christmas season and act out some camp play just doesn't happen either. And then ... there is singing Christmas Carols in church ...
The first time I went to a carol service at Christmas I was rather confused ... There are at two different major melodies for the song 'Away in a Manger' one, "Cradle Song", more commonly encountered in the United Kingdom; the other, "Mueller", more commonly found in the United States. The same goes for 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' which has a completely differen tune.
Cooking and in the kitchen
What the Brits call Washing Up Liquid the Americans would call it Dish Soap.
Dish Cloth Tea Towel
You'd think numbers would be easy, right? Wrong! You can't use 'double'. No siree, that's just to confusing. When giving out your phone number of 7688, you can't say "Double eight", oh no. You have to say "Eight, eight" , or their poor little brains get confused.
How can pieces of clothing have different names? .. I found asking to myself. Easy, it would seem, when you discover that they laugh at you when you use the phrase swimming costume preffering instead to say bathing suit.
I guess they don't play polo, as a Polo Neck means nothing, try asking for a Turtle Neck instead.
When you get dressed up nice and smart, you don't wear a waistcoat, you were a vest. A vest to a British person if of course a sring vest.
A dressing gown is a bathrobe.
Sweatpants Tracksuit Bottoms
Fanny pack Bum bag
Garter Belts Suspenders
Swearing in American itself is of course known as cussing or cursing. Although most will probably know what you mean if you use the word 'Swear'.
First of all it's interesting to know that most American's can't say Bollocks properly. They just can't. It comes out as bullocks when they say it, and even when you've explained the concept of it being testicles, they still don't get it. Giving the V sign as well too means nothing here, nor does calling someone a wanker have any baring at all. I think i called someone a tosspot too once, and it went right over their head. Marvellous.
Spirits are liquor.
They don't know what a Shandy is.
They sever bitter beer cold - not at room temperature.
If you do want to buy that beer though, Americans do not know what an off-license is. It's liquore store (or even package store) all the way.
You might think that's a weird catagory, but most Americans I talk to have no idea that there are different versions of Monopoly around the world.
Therefore what I know as 'Park Lane' becomes 'Park Place' and what I know as 'Mayfair' becomes 'Board Walk'.
This wasn't big news to me as I've know for many years that there are of course internationaly localised version of the game, with names to suit the country that it's been produced in. But what really did surprise me was when I found out that the classic "Professor Plum in the Library with the Candlestick" game has been dumbed down for American to understand. The game of Cluedo has become just Clue in America, and they often don't believe me when I tell them. In face, it often leads to the gag of - "So is Monopoly known as Monopolody, and Sorry known as Sorrydo". Err, no - it's not.
Ludo is known as Parcheesi (from the INdian workd 'Pachisi')
On TV ... Family Fortunes as I know and love it, becomes Family Feud when you move it stateside. Why the hell is that?
Wargames was one of my favourite childhood films and at the end they beat the computer by having a game of Noughts & Crosses. Sorry, I mena .. Tic-Tac-Toe, as it's called in America.
Don't tell someone you won't see them for a fortnight becuase you're on holiday - what you really meant to say is that your taking fourteen days vacation.
Envisage - duh! Envision please. Derusion was thrown at me when I tried that one in a meeting.
An engaged tone becomes a busy signal (bang goes the "They're engaged", "Really? Who to?" gag, bastards)
and the little dot here at the end of this sentence is a period. Not a full stop. And not a womans montly discharge either. (The woman that was probably wearing tights, sorry, I mean pantyhose btw)
Challenge your friend to a game of not draughts, but checkers. Or maybe nought and crosses. What's that? Oh, sorry - Tic, Tac Toe of course!
You can't refer to your underwear as smalls. They won't know what you mean.
Saying someone is a complete tart too doesn't translate as someone being slutty.
A sandpit becomes a sandbox. Oh, and whilst on 'boxs', one of the most hated phrases that I ever encountered and didn't like using was Juice Box - which is how they refer to a carton of drink.
You can't be a Dirty Stopout, you have the Walk of Shame instead.
"I'm just gonna pop round and see Bob". They have no concept that this means to visit someone. You can't give someone a bell or a ring. You have to give them a call, or you get a funny look.
Americans don't say "That's Rubbish", they'd say "That's Garbage!" instead. Trash can instead of rubbish bin too. One of my favouries's it 'tat' or 'tatty' mean worthless or worn - they don't use the either.
At home in the house in the lounge, I would put my feet up on the pouffe instead of the ottoman.
A a drawing pin is a thumb tack.
And I would be Burgled not, Burglarised if someone raided my home
The skirting board becomes the baseboard. And if you're doing any plumbing you can't use a spanner any more - oh no, you'd have to use your wrench instead. Hence the phrase "Throw a spanner in the works" n longer applies, which is why the Americans say 'Throw a monkey wrench', instead.
Cash Register Till
Actually sex isn't much different in the USA to that in the UK. Women hold all the power because they know that men think with their groin rather than their heads. Ok, that's not entirely true. Just .. mostly.
But I can't have a list of stuff to talk about if it can't include one of my favourite subjects. That's right: sex!
But when it comes down to it, there's actually not a lot of differences going on here. According to this 2005 Global Sex Survey your average American 'steady' couple do it 113 times a year (That's 2.17 times per week), whereas Brits manage it twice more at 118 times a year (That.s 2.26 times a week, and I swear that 0.00 make all the difference, ok?)
The one thing that might surprise an American lady when the guy drops his pants [trousers] is that extra bit of flesh sitting excitedly on the end - that's right, your foreskin. For whereas most American guys have had the snip, us Brits lag behind on this one and are more fully intact.
The most distrurbing thing about this that I found is when it comes down to all mens favourite pasttime: masturbation. Trust me, if you're in a steady relationship and your man denies masturbating : He's lying. If he says that he doesn't like porn either, then he's really lieing.
The point is, for a Brit like me that wants to play with himself - it's easy. Get your tackle out, think dirty thoughts, check out some porn, and off you go. But not the American way!
I had no idea how big a part the foreskin had to play in enabling a guy to self pleasure himself. And when I found out that my male American buddies have to lube-up a little to help the process, I was genuinely a little surprised.
Britsh Words which Americans just don't have
There are then words and phrases which I've used where the locals here look at my with a strange look because they have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll often give something a dekko or sus out the SP on something - both of them meaning to check something out.
If I want to pop round to your gaff later, it just means I want to come and visit you at your house. Unknown here! Don't try to cack your pants, buy a pair of kecks, or go and do a dump in the khazi, because they just don't know what you mean. (Shit in your underware, buy some pants, go to the toilet)
Don't tell someone you won't see them for a fortnight becuase you're on holiday - what you really meant to
No such things as a forecourt at a petrol station - the place where you pull up to get petrol is just known as the 'Gas Station', all round.
The Dollar vs. The Pound
Mike Todd's excellent pages, showing a graphical history of the dollar vs. the pound since 1914 - see the periods of time when the dollar was stronger (strongest?) against the pound!
"Two nations divided, by a common language". And so it would seem. Whilst there is a fantasticly comprehensive English2American word list that tells us of all the words that are different between British English and American English, what amuses me more is the fact that words that are the same, and spelt the same, can of course sound completely different.
This map ...
The Ultimate List!
Answering Machine Answer Phone
Busy Signal Engaged Signal
Cell Phone Mobile Phone
Collect Call Reverse charge call
Bachelor party Stag do
Bachelorette party Hen night
Boondocks / Bonnie Out in the sticks
Condo Block of flats
Cotton Ball Cotton Wool
Brush your teeth Clean your teeth
Emergency room casualty
First name Christian name
Ketchup tomato sauce
Last name Surname
Cars & Roads
License Plate Number Plate
Parking Deck Multi Storey Car Park
Parking Lot Car Park
Station Wagon Estate Car
Stick Shift Manual
Office / Work
Liquor Store Off License
Modelling Clay Plasticine
Paper Towel Kitchen Roll
Period Full stop
Phone Booth Phone Box
Pruning Shears Secateurs
Raise pay rise
Scotch Tape Sellotape
Shopping Bag Carrier Bag
Soccer Field Football Pitch
Solids & Stripes Spots & Stripes
Slot machine fruit machine
Thumb tack Drawing pin
Underdrapes Net Curtains
Yard Sale Jumble Sale
Zip code Post code
Street Musician Busker
Man on the street