200+ things I have learned as an American living in the UK
Inspired by the Americans in London Facebook Group, I discovered that there are many other Americans living in the UK, who, like me, are bumping up against various cultural confusions. Also, prompted by my friends and family asking me to share more information about living in the UK, I started compiling a list.
I’ve been here about a dozen years now, arriving in 2004. Originally from New York, it has taken me all these years to learn all these things. And I am still learning. My adored British friends and family have been kind to explain to me the nuances that I often miss. I was also imported here by my husband, a Scotsman, so a lot of what I have learned in influenced by Scottish things.
My list is by no means comprehensive, despite its length. I’ve left out a lot of what I’ve learned about history and politics, because there is countless little facts and insights I have picked up. I truly feel enlightened from my experience living here!
My list attempts to be a guide to anyone new to the UK, thinking of moving here, or just coming for a visit.
So here goes with 200+ things I have learned from living in the UK:
✓ Fags are cigarettes. If someone asks “can I bum a fag off of you?” that means they want you to give them a cigarette.
✓To bum, is to get something for free, but it can also be your butt.
✓Shepherd’s Pie is made from lamb and cottage pie is made from hamburger meat.
✓Hamburger meat in the UK is mince.
✓Dishwashing soap in the UK is called washing up liquid or Fairy soap.
✓A dish drying cloth in the UK is called a tea towel.
✓The tube is London’s subway system, not tube socks, and is also known as the Underground and not to be confused with the Overground, although both are inter-connected and you can use your Oyster card to board both.
✓Stand on the right on tube escalators. Tourists, make very sure you do this!
✓Stand off to the side on any train platform to let the people off the train first. Then board.
✓Don’t use your normal American voice volume, especially on public transportation.
✓If someone sees you and instead of saying hello they say “are you alright?” it doesn’t mean that they think you look sad, or that you seem like you aren’t alright, it is just an expression of greeting.
✓When you are done with a call to a friend, say “byyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeee!”
✓Private schools in the UK are free schools and public schools you pay for.
✓You study maths in the UK, not math.
✓Up in Scotland, when they say, “wee” they mean little, not pee.
✓You live in a flat in the UK, not an apartment.
✓You let a flat in the UK.
✓People say sorry a lot over here.
✓Americans say cell phone, Brits say mobile phone.
✓You can have a top up of a drink, or top up your Oyster card or you can top up your mobile phone in the UK. This means you add more, or re-fill.
✓An Oyster card is like New York City’s Metro Card and costs about three pounds. You can add money to it, and it is cheaper than buying a ticket over the long run, and much easier to use.
✓You have to ask for ice in the UK. Unless they realize you are American and then they often automatically give it to you.
✓No one tips over here.
✓OTT means Over The Top in the UK.
✓People really like quiz shows on TV and quiz nights in pubs in the UK.
✓On Sundays you can get Sunday Roasts at most pubs in the UK.
✓A pub is a pub, but a gastro-pub serves great food in the UK.
✓Arugula is rocket in the UK.
✓Pudding is desert, not pudding, in the UK.
✓School dinners are lunch, in the UK.
✓Tea time is dinner time, in Northern UK. Not time for a cup of tea.
✓A sweater is a jumper in the UK.
✓Your pants are your underpants. Pants are actually trousers. And you can use the expression “pants!” to express that something is s*** in the UK.
✓For the most part, don’t talk about what you do for a living, unless asked. And don’t ask the question “so, what do you do?” over here in the UK.
✓You can cross at a zebra crossing without waiting for a car to stop, but you may not want to do so in the UK.
✓Look left when crossing the street in the UK. If your relatives or friends visit from America, make sure you help them cross the street or at least tell them which way to look. And keep reminding them.
✓Skiving is taking the day off work in the UK, just because you feel like it, without being sick.
✓You are paid an hourly wage in the UK.
✓You go to hospital in the UK , not to “the” hospital. Or, you are “in” hospital, not in the hospital.
✓You feel unwell, not sick, in the UK.
✓If someone nicks something from you, that means they steal it, in the UK.
✓A pound is a coin, worth about a dollar, in the UK.
✓A pence is a penny in the UK.
✓You weigh “stones” not pounds. A stone is about 14 pounds in the UK.
✓You can get coins that are worth two pounds in the UK.
✓You can get a coin that is worth two pence in the UK.
✓A fiver is five pounds, a tenner is ten pounds in the UK.
✓A note is any kind of paper money in the UK.
✓A fizzy pop is soda in the UK.
✓You can go to the pharmacist and ask them medical questions and they will offer you advice, and non-prescription medicine to help your problem in the UK.
✓Paracetamol is used more than Aspirin. In fact, it is hard to find Aspirin here in the UK.
✓You “pop to the shop” not go shopping, in the UK.
✓Wal-Mart is ASDA in the UK.
✓TJ Max is called TK Max in the UK.
✓Don’t put eggs in the fridge in the UK.
✓Sour cream is soured cream in the UK.
✓Whipped cream is squirty cream in the UK.
✓It is hard to find corn tortillas in the UK.
✓You fill the car with petrol, not gas, in the UK.
✓Some tube trains are much faster than others in London.
Hammersmith and City Line
✓If you fall asleep on the Circle Line, after a night out, you are then officially a “Londoner.”
✓“It has all gone pear shaped” or “tits up”, all mean things have gone wrong or you can say, “it has all gone horribly wrong” in the UK.
✓Toilet paper is bog roll in the UK.
✓The Queen owns all the swans and you aren’t allowed to kill or eat them in the UK.
✓A vagina is a fanny in the UK.
✓A penis is a willy in the UK.
✓Your bits and pieces are your sex organs in the UK.
✓When you shag, you have sex in the UK.
✓You can “pull” a guy (or girl), and that means pick them up in the UK.
✓Kissing is snogging in the UK.
✓There are chavs, there are neds and there are wankers and tossers. Generally all derogatory terms for certain types of people in the UK.
✓“I’m feeling a bit rough,” usually means you have a hangover, or lost sleep, or you are sick, usually with a cold, in the UK.
✓Polka dots are spots in the UK.
✓You ring someone, not call them, in the UK.
✓Having a lie-in in the UK means that you are sleeping late.
✓If you are tired you can “have a little sit-down” in the UK.
✓When you “take the piss out of someone” it means you are kidding, or sarcastically joking around with them in the UK.
✓When it rains really hard you can say “it’s pissing down!” in the UK.
✓When the weather is terrible say “it’s minging out there!” in the UK.
✓Pubic hair is minge in the UK.
✓The loo is the bathroom. You either go to the loo or the toilet, but never the bathroom in the UK. You can usually say “I’m going to pop to the loo.”
✓When someone says, “that’s a bit rude” in the UK, they are actually really insulted, possibly deeply offended.
✓The tax year crosses between two years, ending in April – so you file a 2015-2016 tax return. This is all really confusing in the UK.
✓Colour, flavour, programme, neighbourhood – you have to learn how to write British English in the UK.
✓You can go to the Continent from the UK, which is mainland Europe.
✓You go on holiday, not take a vacation, in the UK.
✓There are several Bank Holidays throughout the year in the UK, which are days off on Mondays.
✓No one minds if you take a holiday in the UK, and even if it is three-four weeks long, that is OK.
✓The tube stops running at about 11:20 PM in London.
✓A big night out is pretty wild in the UK.
✓Cheese rolling is a real sport in the UK.
✓You are supposed to pick a football team to support in the UK.
✓Lawn Bowling is a popular game, played in all white clothes in the UK.
✓Cricket is played in all white clothes in the UK.
✓Rugby has this thing called a “scrum” which is when all the players bang into each other on the field, I think, in the UK.
✓There is no baseball or basketball on TV, except on special channels or at 2 AM in the UK.
✓Builder’s tea is served in a mug in the UK.
✓You put cucumber in Pimms and lemonade in the UK.
✓Ale is usually served warm in the UK.
✓The local café, is usually a greasy spoon in the UK.
✓A full English breakfast is a thing, and pretty standard around the country. Beans come with English breakfast. As well as a grilled tomato and some grilled mushrooms. You can also ask for it by requesting a “full English” in the UK.
✓A hearty, greasy breakfast that is great for a hangover is a “fry up” and breakfast is also called “brekkie” in the UK.
✓Black pudding is kind of like sausage and is made from blood, in the UK.
✓Haggis is made from mutton and mutton is, for the most part, an old sheep, in the UK.
✓A lot of the coffee is instant in the UK.
✓Your “local” is your closest neighbourhood pub in the UK.
✓Q-tips, tickle sticks, or cotton swabs are called cotton wools or cotton buds, in the UK.
✓Lice are nits in the UK.
✓A warm sweater is a “big woolly jumper” in the UK.
✓Taking the mickey out of someone means making fun of them in the UK.
✓You can also “take the piss” out of someone, which means you are teasing them in the UK.
✓If you are “telling a porky” you are lying, in the UK.
✓Asians are mostly Indians, and not Chinese or Japanese, in the UK.
✓You can “fancy an Indian, Chinese or Turkish” and this is in reference to wanting to eat Indian, Chinese or Turkish food, in the UK.
✓People from Manchester are called Mancs and people from Liverpool are called Scousers and people from East London are Cockney. People from Newcastle are called Geordies. People from Birmingham are called Brummies.
✓If you are applying for a job, they want your CV not your resume, and often they will ask you to fill in an entirely separate form, and won’t accept your CV as application, in the UK.
✓A job interviewer wants you to “tick all the boxes” which means you fill all the criteria for the position, in the UK.
✓Even if you have oodles of experience in your field, if you do not have UK experience, chances are high you will not be hired.
✓To get UK experience, work for free for a while, or volunteer somewhere in you’re field of choice.
✓You should go to a recruitment agency to find work, not just apply for job ads online or to job ads in the newspaper, in the UK.
✓The job centre is actually where you pick up unemployment checks, or where you “sign on” to get onto the “dole” which is government assisted income. They do have some jobs listed on their computer kiosks, but mostly for odd jobs, in the UK.
✓When you go out to a business-networking event, it is better to let people talk to you first, or have someone else introduce you, in the UK.
✓The Church of England in the UK is equivalent to America’s Anglican Church.
✓A Vicar runs the church, kind of like a Priest or Pastor, in the UK.
✓The longest word in the Welsh language is:
✓Vaping is a new term for smoking electronic cigarettes, used, I am told, here in the UK and elsewhere.
✓You are a mum, not a mom, in the UK.
✓Mother’s Day is on a different day than in America.
✓In the Houses of Parliament, the politicians yell at each other, and this is debating, and it is OK, in the UK.
✓People most often won’t know if you are American or Canadian, and sometimes, it is better to say you are Canadian, in the UK.
✓Marmite is made from yeast, and is a salty brown spread for toast that is rich in vitamin B-12. It is the same stuff that comes out of the sides of the draft pumps that they serve beer from, in the UK.
✓Americans are viewed as bounding, happy go-lucky, Labrador dogs, who will jump all over you and greet you in utter joy, and not understand when the Brits shrink away from this behaviour.
✓Saran wrap is cling film, in the UK.
✓You have to pay a TV license fee to get access to any channels. If you don’t, you will be found out and fined, in the UK.
✓A roundabout in the UK, is a kind of traffic circle.
✓Double-glazing is extra heatproof window frames to keep the cold air out, in the UK.
✓PPI is Payment Protection Insurance that the banks once issued, in the UK.
✓People prefer, usually, to get a text message rather than a phone call, in the UK.
✓It is especially better to send a text to someone, in the UK, when they are inside a pub or a loud music venue, so they can know that you have arrived and are looking for them. Otherwise they may not hear the phone ring.
✓The exchange rate of dollars to pounds in the UK fluctuates from about $1.70 to $2.00 per pound in the last 5-7 years.
✓If you pay for something with a note, you will most likely get a lot of heavy change back, so you will need a little purse to keep all of the change you have. This purse should be separate from the small change purse you have in your wallet, because you will get so much of it that you can’t fit all the change in your wallet.
✓Guns are illegal here, but knives are accessible and dangerous and often there will be “knife check points” in the tube stations or “knife bins” for people to voluntarily put their knives into.
✓A bin is a garbage or trashcan, in the UK.
✓There are no bins in the tube stations because they were used for IRA bomb attacks back in the 70s and 80s, in the UK.
✓Potatos are tatties, in the UK.
✓The tele is TB, in the UK.
✓The wireless is the radio, in the UK.
✓Phone boxes are public phone booths, in the UK.
✓A spanner is a wrench, in the UK.
✓You have to turn on a switch to turn on the electricity on all the plugs, in the UK.
✓There are no toaster ovens, in the UK.
✓Much of prime-time TV programs are educational, but they do show a number of comedy sitcoms that run for a few months in a series, such as ‘Little Britain’, ‘The Mighty Boosch’, ‘Peep Show’, ‘Spaced’ and ‘Catastrophe’, in the UK.
✓Cheese on toast is melted cheese on toast and it is popular to put Branston Pickle on top of it, in the UK.
✓Branston Pickle is a kind of tangy spread made from vegetables and pickled in a vinegar sauce, in the UK.
✓Most pickles sold are called gherkins and they are usually sweet, in the UK.
✓Sleeping rough is when someone is homeless and has to sleep on the street, in the UK.
✓There are endless funny place and street names all over the UK, like Crouch End, Cockfosters, and Swallow Passage.
✓Your butt is your arse or your bum, or your ass, and you often “can’t be arsed” to do something which means you can’t be bothered, in the UK.
✓If you “chat someone up” you are trying to pick them up, in the UK.
✓If you “fancy” someone, you like them, in the UK.
✓When you “take a shine” to something or someone, you like them, in the UK.
✓When something is “moreish” you want more of it, in the UK.
✓When something is “samey” it is boring and the same as other things, in the UK.
✓Do-it-yourself is DIY, in the UK.
✓The Pearly Kings and Queens are an East End thing, and they raise money for charitable causes.
✓You can also say something it is “rubbish” if you think it is terrible, in the UK.
✓A “knees up” is a really hilarious good time, in the UK.
✓If you get made redundant you have been laid-off, in the UK.
✓You can say “sod-it!” when you are frustrated, instead of something ruder, in the UK.
✓When it is time to “tidy up” that means you have to clean up. This is also called “tidy up time!” in the UK
✓Posh people are mostly rich people, in the UK.
✓You can say someone is “up their own arse” when they don’t really know what they are talking about, or they are snotty and blowing their own smoke, in the UK.
✓Costumes are fancy dress, in the UK.
✓You go to Uni or University but never college, in the UK.
✓Jury duty is jury service, in the UK.
✓You order a takeaway — and that is either an order to go, or a home delivery, in the UK.
✓When you are “having a whinge” you are whining or complaining about something, in the UK.
✓When something is really “winding you up” it is annoying you, in the UK.
✓When you are “just having a laugh” you are making a little bit of fun of someone, and think they should not take it personally, in the UK.
✓When you are “knackered” or “shattered” or “zonked” you are tired, in the UK.
✓A baby wipe, or wet nap, is a wipey, wipe or moist towlette, in the UK.
✓When you “yak” you puke, in the UK.
✓America is “across the pond.”
✓Toad in the hole is a dish of sausages baked in Yorkshire Pudding mix, in the UK.
✓Yorkshire Pudding is like American pop overs.
✓Sticky toffee pudding is similar to sponge cake with a toffee sauce on top, usually served with ice cream or cream, in the UK.
✓Cornish pasties, in the UK, are meat filling, usually, baked in pastry layer. You can eat them holding them in your hand.
✓Bacon butties, in the UK, are bacon on a roll, usually with ketchup.
✓Salad cream is a white, creamy sauce usually used on a lot of things like potatos, but not so much on salad, in the UK.
✓Cream tea is a full affair that includes scones, jam, clotted cream, and a pot of tea, in the UK.
✓Clotted cream, in the UK, is a rich cream used as a spread like butter.
✓Scones are like American biscuits, with raisins in them.
✓Bisto gravy is an instant gravy product sold in the UK, that is usually served with sausage and mash, roast beef, chicken or Sunday roast.
✓In the UK, Heniz Beanz are baked beans, and are used with many dishes, including sausage and mash, fish sticks, fish pie, toast, breakfast, and even eaten straight out of the can without even heating it up.
✓In the UK, prawn cocktail is shrimp with a creamy sauce on it.
✓Cucumber sandwiches come with slices of cucumber, and usually cream cheese or butter, in the UK.
✓A Ploughman’s lunch is typically ham, cheese and bread, in the UK.
✓Jellied eels are eels cooked in a jelly-like liquid and the dish is usually found in London’s East End.
✓You go to the seaside, not so much, the beach, in the UK.
✓Eccles cakes are a kind of pastry with a very sweet raisin filling, in the UK.
✓Scotch eggs are hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, and covered in breadcrumbs and are popular as finger food for picnics, in the UK.
✓Steak and ale pie is a baked pot pie and usually found in the East End of London.
✓Sausage and mash, also known as bangers and mash, is a staple dish of the UK, as popular as fish and chips, and is sausage links with mashed potatos.
✓Winkles are usually found at the seaside, or markets, and are the meat inside little snail-like crustations, in the UK.
✓Spotted Dick, in the UK, is a desert with a sponge cake substance, currants and served with custard.
✓Currants are like raisins, but tangier, in the UK.
✓Ribena, in the UK, is a blackcurrant, usually non-carbonated, very sweet, soft drink.
✓Crumpets are sort of like American English Muffins.
✓Mushy peas, in the UK, are usually served with fish and chips, and are squished marrowfat peas, often with mint mixed in.
✓You can find parsnips everywhere, in the UK, and they are usually used in roast dinners or to make soup.
✓Rhubarb, in the UK, is available mostly in summer and is boiled, with sugar, to create a sweet, tangy mush that is then usually served with custard.
✓Custard is like American pudding, and it can be made from a powder, or you can buy it pre-made in a package.
✓When Brits say “from the package” it is the opposite of cooking from scratch and means you used a processed or prepared food.
✓Pea and ham soup is like American split pea soup.
✓You can get curry sauce with your chips, which is a Northern UK thing.
✓Chips are fries, and are served in a wrapped paper container (used to be newspaper) and are always thick cut, unless they tell you otherwise, in the UK. They cost about a pound, from any chip shop. Brits like to call the shops “chipies.”
✓A chip shop, in the UK, is a place that serves fish and chips.
✓Crisps are potato chips. Potato chips are not crisps, in the UK.
✓A popular dish is chicken and chips, which is fried chicken with french fries, and there are many chicken and chip shops around the UK that specialize in this dish, with names like Texas Fried Chicken and Southern Fried Chicken.
✓A late night kebab is very popular after a night of drinking, in the UK. Usually you get a donner kebab, which is made of lamb meat compressed on a stick that is then carved off and put into a pita bread with salad and chilli if you like.
✓Sausage rolls, in the UK, are sausage meat wrapped in pastry and baked in the oven.
✓Pineapple and cheese on toothpicks is a thing of the seventies, but still popular for parties, in the UK.
✓If you order a “pint of bitters” at the pub, in the UK, you get beer.
✓Tablet is a Scottish sweet made from sugar and butter.
✓Shortbread is a buttery cookie from Scotland.
✓PG Tips is the most commonly sold type of tea, and is also used for Builder’s tea.
✓Earl Grey tea is popular in the UK, and has a sweet tangy taste to it, because of the Bergomot in it.
✓A Crunchie bar in the UK, is a toffee flavored candy bar.
✓A Mars Bar is an American Milky Way.
✓A Cadbury Flake is a chocolate bar, in the UK, that is usually served with soft serve ice cream. You can also order a ’99’ bar with your softt serve ice cream here, and get a small Flake bar.
✓An iced lollie in the UK, is an American popsicle.
✓The Ground Floor of buildings is really the first floor to Americans.
✓A lift in the UK, is an elevator.
✓In the UK, there are so many words that I have had to learn in order to understand and communicate with people, including: boot, fit, bird, mate, cheers, gutted, trainer, kit, lilo, wellies, garden, nappy, dummy, queue, football/soccer, come round, round mine, cheeky, quid, rucksack…and many, many more.
✓The “A to Zed Guide” is a book of maps of London.
✓Z is Zed, in the UK.