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British and American English Differences – How To Survive Language Barriers While Touring
Traveling from the US to the UK will be easy because we speak the same language, right? To put it simply, no. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said it best when he famously stated that America and England are “two countries separated by a common language.” Little did I know about the British and American English differences…
I quickly learned that George Bernard Shaw knew what he was talking about. It took a number of confusing situations, which usually turned into embarrassment, for me be able to properly communicate with my English speaking British counterparts. Who knew about the countless differences between American and British English! In order to prevent you from going through my painful embarrassment, I’ve decided to bare all and share some of my horrifying language mix ups and mishaps from my first big trip to the UK, as well as stories I’ve collected from friends and family. (If you guys are reading this, I hope you can laugh at these now!) Take my tips and start planning your trip using our UK Trip Planner.
My friends got together for a birthday. We decided to all meet at one person’s American apartment, which is a British flat, before going out. Right before it was time to leave, I asked the host if I could use the bathroom. I was greeted by a strange look, and she led me to a room with just a bathtub and sink in it, no toilet. Embarrassed and unsure of how to handle this situation, I asked her where the missing toilet was. She laughed at the confusion, and led me to the toilet, AKA the loo (I guess it makes sense, I asked for the bathroom and that’s what I got).
American vs British English words can get especially confusing with clothing. What British people call “trousers,” Americans call “pants,” and what British people call “pants,” Americans call “underwear.” This got my sister into a lot of trouble when she met her British roommate when she was studying abroad. Have you ever tried to explain the plot of the famous American bestseller “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” to someone from the UK? “What do you mean four girls share a pair of pants and don’t wash them!?” An American sweater is a British jumper, and an American jumper is a British pinafore. An American undershirt is a British vest, and an American vest is a British waistcoat. The British and American English differences really add up!
American English and British English Examples
American zucchini is British courgette, and American eggplant is British aubergine – but at least the British/American versions of these vegetables don’t correspond to other words with the same meaning, and therefore it’s straight up learning new words. It gets much more confusing when you learn that British crisps are American chips, and British chips are American fries, British jam is American jelly, and British jelly is American jello. If you’re craving a good old savory American biscuit served with gravy, please don’t order a biscuit in the UK, because you will be very disappointed when you are served what you know as cookies. I hate cilantro and always make sure to ask waiters if it’s in the dish I’m interested in. To my dismay, the waiter was right when he said there was no cilantro in the meal, because American cilantro is British coriander.
I’ll never forget the look on my friends’ faces when I told them I was considering buying the nerdy yet functional fanny pack. A what now?! When my British friends were able to finish their round of embarrassed laughter, they managed to explain that “fanny” refers to something completely different in the UK… Confusion between American and English words can really get you into trouble.
I was very overwhelmed the first time I babysat in England. “Don’t worry, I’m a very organized mum. I left a dummy in the nappy bag which is hanging on the buggy.” I froze. Mum? Dummy? Nappy bag? Buggy? Who knew children in England has completely different things than children in America! The parents very patiently explained to me, mum is mom, dummy is pacifier, nappy bag is diaper bag, and a buggy is a stroller. Once that was cleared up, we had a great time. I couldn’t believe all the American English and British English differences just for children’s items!
And when my British friend asked an American guy in her class for a “rubber,” well… things got awkward fast (she was asking for an eraser, she swears!). There are some British and American English differences that are especially important to know!
If you have a UK trip itinerary, to prepare for your trip across the pond, here is a list of words you may want to look over during your flight:
American and British English Words List
|Parking Lot||Car Park|
|Speed bump||Sleeping policeman|
|Bathroom/ restroom||Toilet/ loo|
|Cotton candy||Candy floss|
Last but certainly not least, on the American subway, AKA the British tube, when they say “mind the gap,” they mean watch the gap. And don’t forget to look right when crossing the street!
Enjoy your trip, and let us know if you come home with any funny vocabulary mishaps!
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