Being a Brit in the Big Apple 

I knew that crossing the Atlantic would mean leaving the familiarity of tea and scones behind. But as an international student who had already visited the States, and considered himself a well-traveled citizen, I had expected to find a culture not unlike my own. Perhaps they would have scone alternatives, and tea substitutes. But to my surprise living, working and dwelling amongst American life has revealed to me a plethora of small, yet significant cultural differences between these folk and the English.

What follows are just some of the different cultural norms I've observed during my time in New York.

Asking for Directions

Back in Britannia, we don’t like to impose ourselves on others. We don’t want to intrude, or get in the way, therefore it may be perhaps considered a little bold to actually ask for exactly what we want. When asking for directions we might simply imply our predicament by saying “Hello. I’m looking for Regent Street.” But to Americans, this doesn’t constitute a question proper and so you might get a confused response , such as: “Are you asking for directions?”

In England, we might  also ensure to only ask for the specific piece of information that we are missing, so as to be less of a burden on the poor pedestrian—for instance by saying “Is this the northbound train?” But to Americans this may be confusing; it is best to state clearly where your end destination is, so they can visualize how they would themselves travel there, eg. “Tell me how to get to the British Embassy.”  New Yorkers also do not use the lexicon of North and South, preferring instead uptown and downtown, as this seems easier for them.

"Fine" Dining

Biscuits and gravy are neither biscuits nor gravy—do not be fooled. Lured by the tempting idea of a sweet treat, I was expecting the English cookie-like form of the biscuit. But instead I was given a substitute scone. “Aha!” I thought, “at last a scone substitute”. Only then did they proceed to douse the thing in thick meaty milky white “gravy”. Apparently this was not baby food.

Nota Bene: Please, fellow Englishmen, remember that American portion sizes are exceptionally large.  While in the home counties we may consider side dishes to pad out the meal, but here this will not be necessary. Many Americans expect not to finish and to take the leftovers home. This behavior would be perverse enough without referring to the containers as “doggy bags.”

Class Introductions

The Americans, it appears, have a  particular panache for introducing themselves.

Let me explain… In England, it would be very uncouth to appear to enjoy talking about yourself—thus, we’re trained not to enjoy it at all. One ought to avoid all semblance of eagerness about revealing one’s interests, ambitions, or achievements. Its generally therefore assumed none of us posses any.

Here, however, the  American dream is alive and well. So introducing yourself  to the class presents the unique opportunity of a captive audience.  Fellow classmates appear to indulge in lengthy, substantial biographies and what are presumably first-drafts of their future Wikipedia pages. You must realize that the longer the Americans introduce themselves for, the more painfully short our English attempts will show in comparison.

Secret English Code

Lastly, allow me to offer a tip to my new American friends and colleagues.

If English people say we “quite like” something, its code for saying we hate it.

We’re just being polite.