UK vs US – the same, but different

So ten days turned into two months, and here I am, still in the United States.

I’ve been noticing a range of inconsequential differences between the US and home (the UK) and I thought it might be fun to note a few of these things down.

Things that surprise/confuse me:

– So many auto-flush toilets. Not meaning to be crude, but, you do your business, stand up and go to flush it, and before you know it, it’s flushing itself already. A good idea I suppose, but occasionally they don’t wait for you to stand, and that makes me jump, sometimes literally.

– Biscuits are not biscuits (“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it”). Biscuits are in fact light scone-like bread things, frequently eaten with gravy or sausage. No matter how often I hear it, there’s still something odd about someone ordering “biscuits and gravy”.

– “XING” meaning “crossing” – again, it doesn’t matter how many times I see it on signs, I still end up reading it as “Children Zing!” or “Bikes Zing”

– They call braces “suspenders” – cue confused Kate when I heard someone talking about a friend: “he always wears suspenders”.

– The concept of “squash” or “cordial” appear to have entirely bypassed America.

– Guns. For more on this, see previous blog post.

Things that upset/annoy me:

– Sales tax. They don’t add it on until you get to the till. Thus making you look and feel like an idiot having counted out the exact change, only to then be told it’s an arbitrary amount more. I say “arbitrary” fully realising that someone will point out it is a set percentage, but given that percentage changes between states (and, I’m told, even within some states) it certainly feels that way. Sort it out America, bundle the tax into the ticket price. Stop these nasty till-point surprises.

– Barely anywhere sells Marmite, an even when you find it, it’s almost out of date before you’ve bought it. Marmite takes years to go out of date, how long has it been sitting there? (Probably forever in one store, where instead of stocking it with the jams and spreads, it was instead next to the baking yeast. Erm, fail.)

– People pronounce the word “herbs” as “erbs”. There’s an H at the front! Stop being so lazy and say it! (Or follow suit and drop the ‘H’ entirely, like you do with all those ‘U’s).

– People in the States buy Lego, but then proceed to play with “Legos”. No. It is Lego. End of. If you want to pluralise it then say “Lego bricks”.

– (Look away boys…) Tampons. For all the crazy amount of choice that’s available to you in the states, the option to buy non-applicator tampons does not appear to exist. Don’t make me carry around enormous “period alert” sticks. I know you like packaging over here but I want the choice to say no to daft bits of plastic clogging up landfill.

– Everything seems to have corn syrup in it. Even bread.

– Americans are obsessed with having lots of ice in their drinks. In fact, more ice than drink most of the time. Sets my sensitive British teeth on edge, plus I can’t really taste what it is I’m drinking if it is near freezing.

– Portion sizes are enormous! It’s like they are trying to prove what great value it is by giving you at least twice as much as you could possibly eat. Why not just make a smaller portion and charge less?

American portions


Things I kinda like:

– The flipside to huge portions is that no-one looks at you strangely if you want to take your leftovers home. They will happily provide you with little boxes to do so.

– Smart Foods White Cheddar popcorn. Sounds wrong, but is oh so right.

Smart Food White Cheddar Popcorn

– Almond M&Ms, with whole almonds

– People seem to like my accent, so the pressure to say something witty or interesting is removed, so long as I’m still saying *something*. Several people have said they’d be happy listening to me read the phonebook out loud, so either the accent’s a winner, or I just happened to stumble on a group of phonebook fetishists.

– They don’t feel the need to blast out cheesy Christmas classics at maximum volume in the shops in December. It’s all the classic crooners or instrumental versions of popular carols, gently piped out in the background. Not so frantic, not so overwhelming. Quite nice actually. I didn’t expect to feel like Christmas was less commercial in the States than it is in London, but perhaps that is a result of my being in Portland, OR at the moment.

Things you wouldn’t see at home/that make me laugh:

These are best explained with pictures, so here goes!

So, American Lemonade is not like your classic R. Whites, it’s not fizzy, it’s just made from lemons, water and sugar. Oh, unless you’re Minute Maid, who helpfully let you know how much real juice there is in their lemonade. Yep. 0%.  Amazing.

Minute Maid Lemonade

In America it’s all about the sales pitch: Bright, brazen and “buy me”. They also like the word “awesome” quite a lot.. it’s rubbing off on me. Help! Not to worry – I’m never going to get *this* excited about cleaning the bathroom.

Awesome Bathroom Cleaner

Americans take religion seriously. Very seriously. There are a *lot* of churches around. Some of them have signs outside where they put up different messages each day. Like this one:

Is Jesus on your Facebook?

But what if you like chocolate and praying? (These are not even meant to be ironic)

Pray for chocolate

And this? Well, this is just wrong.

Butt Aid?

12 thoughts on “UK vs US – the same, but different

  1. I love this. I’ve been there a couple of times and my god, it’s more confusing than being in a country where they speak a different language. The words, I knew, but the sentences had me scratching my head in utter confusion. And the menus were worse! What is any of this crazy stuff??

  2. My Dad said the same about his accent when he was there. Someone said ‘You have such a neat accent! Where d’you get it?’.
    Surprised at the lack of cordial though. That seems odd.

  3. Interesting post. I do have a couple of comments.
    1. Tampons. I found it very odd you couldn’t find any. I’ve purchased them in large towns and small in grocery stores, Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS.

    2. Herbs. Not everyone keeps the h silent, though etymologically a silent h is the original ‘correct’ way. You all brought it over here while the trend was still silent. It didn’t begin being pronounced until the 1800s (and that was over there, not over here). (This is from memory as I’ve had this discussion before, and etymology is an interest of mine.)

    3. Sales tax. It is confusing and it varies even within the same urban area. There’s state sales tax, city sales tax, special taxes on certain items you buy or towards certain projects (Minneapolis had a sales tax to build the new baseball stadium). In Minnesota, for example, there is no sales tax on clothes. In Iowa, certain foods are tax exempt. Various other items are tax exempt in certain areas – prescription drugs, computers, etc. Tax on things I buy while working in Minneapolis is at 7.775%, while tax on things I buy 8 miles away near my house is 7.125%. I find it easiest to use my check card and have the money come out of my checking account, rarely using cash.

    I’m totally with you on the ice issue! I hate it! I’ve never owned ice trays, I never use ice when I can pour my own sodas, and I always order drinks without it. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

    I love big portions and doggy bags. One price = 2 or 3 meals. I’m a cheapskate, what can I say. ;)

    1. I can find tampons, but not non-applicator ones. It’s a small thing, but it bothers me that there is a whole bunch of extra plastic and packaging that I really don’t need.

      Tax is so confusing – that’s why I want the shops to add it on for me instead of trying to second guess how much it might be for each different item. Works fine in the UK that way… :)

  4. That’s what I meant – the non-applicator ones. There are 3 or 4 different brands that I see all over so it was odd to me they aren’t found everywhere.

  5. You think you’re confused now? Try driving a car in Georgia, where the roads change names at least three times without making a turn. Oh, and then there are the 71 different streets with a variant of “Peachtree” in it. Southerners claim this is done to confuse the Yankees…

  6. it never occurred to me that sticking your tweedle dees in your hoohoo could be considered environmentally sensitive. thank you for blowing my mind

  7. I love smartfood. You can’t get it here and it drives me up the wall. make sure you take a year supply if you return to the uk.
    I want some now. :(

  8. Butt Aid reminds me of Butt Paste, which I think is worse! My friend Kelly, who commented on your Discovery shuttle launch boo, keeps advertising it.

  9. Kate, remember when you travel in America to have your fanny pack. Are you familiar with fanny packs?! It is sometimes the cause of much embarrassment for American women visiting the UK! To us, it is a bum bag!

    1. I grew up in England but have been living in the US for 15 years now, and “fanny” still makes me cringe and probably turn red. My friends say it just to tease me

  10. Kate, I have to admit, the British female accent is very easy on the ears. Sorry about the whole “corn syrup” thing. I think Americans are starting to notice the effect HFCS is having on their waistlines and overall wellness. In addition to the misuse of… pluralism.. we tend to turn proper nouns into possessive case, or tense, or whatever. (I’m only half good at grammar’n’stuff) For instance: “I’m going to Meijer’s.” means I’m going to a grocery store called “Meijer”. Or “Can you get that at Meijer’s?” Maybe it’s just an Ohio thing. Regardless, it’s get’s pretty’s annoying’s after’s a while’s.

    Thanks for visiting!

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