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 ...
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.
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 a generics name for one.
Root vegetables 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 amusement 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 American is one that's been sunbathing, you'll have to say jacket potato.
Granola is Muesli. Jelly is Jello, a Sirloin steak is a Porterhouse steak, and Icing Sugar is known as powered sugar.
Mince meat is just known as Ground Beef,
Mince Meat is known as Ground Beef, and stock cubes (like OXO) are bouillon cubes.
Prawns are known as Shrimp. Southerners like to eat a dish which I didn't like called 'Shrimp & Grits', where grits was like .. a weird porridgey substance which wasn't actually porridge. Whatever, everytime someone rolled out the Shrimp & Grits, I was all like "Ah, it's Prawns & Porridge 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 Gateaux" - as in the cake, and they had no idea what I was talking about. Gateaux 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" (familiar) 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 large 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 speled 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.
A Puncture is a Flat Tire, the Motorway becomes the Freeway, a Lorry is a Truck, and the Boot of a car is the Trunk of a car.(A 'Boot' in fact to an American, is a wheel-clamp).
Indicators becomes Turn Signals, Wing Mirrors are just Side Mirros, the Pavement is the Sidewalk, the Central Reservation is the Median, and Jump Leads are better known as Jumper Cables.
Oh and the road surface you drive on? No it's not Tarmac, it's Blacktop.
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.
Britain 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 familiar with the phrase Gift Wrap.
They also don't "do" pantomime. 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 different 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 proffering 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 string vest.
A dressing gown is a bathrobe. Suspenders are known as braces, a sweater is a jumper and sweatpants are actually called tracksuit bottoms. What they call a fanny pack we call a bum bag, and ski-mask is a balaclava, and garter belts are what we'd call suspenders.
I lived in America for almost four years between May 2006 and November 2009, and it was a continual discovery of obvious and more subtle differences between the two nations that are divided by the same language.
Although I should clarify that when I say I say "I live in America", what I really mean is that I moved to Charleston, South Carolina where I never appreciated how 'The South' was different to rest of the USA. Just as the UK has its localised customs and a range of dialects - so does the USA.
Americans that I meet here though are never failed to be impressed with my ability to conjure up Scottish, Irish (both hard Belfast and soft Dublin), Welsh, Brummy (midlands), Manchunian, Liverpudlian, Geordie and West Country (Cornwall) based accents. Not to mention received pronunciation (Queens English) and some good old Cockney rhyming slang thrown in for good measure. For such a small country (compared to the USA) we beat them hands down for mix of dialects.