I was pleasantly surprised when I found a guest post from Fraser of Chief State in my email. For this guest post, Fraser wanted to discuss some of the differences between North America and England that he has noticed while traveling across America as a Brit in a Canadian band.
He is seriously a delight. Hopefully, someday he and the rest of Chief State can actually be my guests in real life. I will have to do research on how to make a decent cup of tea before he gets to Ohio. It would be weird to bring a teapot to a concert, right?!
North America, a continent full of dreams, oversized portions and unintelligible distances. To someone like me, who spent the first 22 years of his life living on a small island across the pond, this area of the world can sometimes be a little perplexing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, the landscapes are profound, the cities stimulating and the people welcoming! Already 2 years into my North American dream, I’m still fascinated by the small things and differences that separate us Brits from our American and Canadian counterparts. Here’s a brief insight into some of my experiences and lessons learned over the past 2 years:
- Distances are unfathomable here!
I grew up in the Southwest of England and I’m not lying when I say that before moving here, a long drive was an hour commute to Bristol or the 2 hours it would take to get to London! Growing up on an island where you can drive from the top to the bottom in less time than it takes to get from Houston to El Paso is the reason why I find distances here so incomprehensible. Chief State has been out on a few tours now and I still can’t prepare myself for just how long the drives are between cities, seriously, how do you all do it? I’m bored to death after 45 minutes in a car! Any advice for killing time on long distance drives welcome, feel free to tweet us some ideas for our next tour!
- Drinking culture
Everyone loves a drink right? The world over you can meet a stranger and bond over a beer. Before long you’re telling each other you’re best friends and making plans to meet up and grab another pint some time! Yet somehow, my fundamental friend making tactic is a less fruitful out here. In fact, on more than one occasion trying to make friends while out on the lash has been counterproductive! It has to do with us Brits and our relationship with the naughty water, alcohol is a fundamental part of our lives, it’s just ingrained into our society. When you see your friends, you go for a beer. When you have no plans on the weekend, you go for a beer. When you do have plans for the weekend, it involves beers… And maybe a couple of shots. People in North America seem to be a little more casual/sensible with their drinking, whereas in the UK it is considered a sport. Even when Americans try to make it a sport, there are far too many activities alongside the drinking. Beer pong and flip cup just get in the way of the most important game, the game of drink! So the lesson I learned (the hard way), people don’t get sloshed and pass out in a shopping cart here, people don’t approve of you doing this either, moderation is key. And I have to admit, it was a good lesson to learn! Stay hydrated but don’t over-hydrate!
- “No, but where in England are you from?”
This one cracks me up. If it’s anywhere other than London people have no idea! Sometimes I ramble on about being from Rohan, Westeros or Hogsmead to try and catch the liars who say they know British geography!
- Accents and pronunciations are amusing apparently.
I moved here without a visa, I couldn’t work for the first couple of months and so I would busk to make some money. Being broke and singing all day would leave my mouth quite parched, though I dreaded asking for water. I remember my first encounter of this. Asking for tap water in McDonalds and being met with the same confused face over and over, until finally I dropped the T for a D and the lady responded: “Well, why didn’t you just say that?” It’s a very strange experience speaking the same language as someone but them not understanding you, water is literally spelled with a T, not a D, yet I’m still misinterpreted on a weekly basis?
More recently, my accent has turned into somewhat of a punching bag for my band mates in an endless search to find ‘odd’ ways I say things. Apparently, the word “ball” is amusing. The argument continues even now, no I am not saying “Boll”, and yes I do think “Ba-uhl” is the incorrect pronunciation. The endless disagreements are pretty funny though, what isn’t funny is going home to the UK and being called out by your friends and family for having an American/Canadian accent! Personally, I don’t hear it, but I guess I’m some kind of mutt English speaker who sounds British to Americans and American to Brits. I didn’t sign up for this.
- Different words for things.
Here are some of my favourites:
Potato chips = crisps. French fries = chips. Cookies = biscuits. Fanny pack = bum bag. Pants = trousers. Underpants = pants. Panties = knickers. Sneakers = trainers. Cleats = football boots. Soccer = football. Football = hand egg. Sweater = jumper. Trunk = boot. Hood = bonnet. Gas = petrol. Rubber = Johnny. Eraser = rubber. Garbage = rubbish. Baseball = rubbish.
- Tipping culture is different, we just don’t do it so much in the UK!
Ok, so don’t think badly of me, but I just didn’t get it when I got here! I apologize to everyone I under-tipped in my first few weeks living in Vancouver, I had no idea it’s so crucial to servers’ wages. In the UK, the minimum wage is the same for all jobs so tipping is not needed, not only that but it’s just not a custom there. I’ve worked many different minimum wage jobs, including in a restaurant and it’s honestly shocking if someone tips! Not that it’s not welcome, but it’s never expected. You won’t get hounded or harassed by someone if you don’t tip, though if you do, you will certainly get a surprised and genuinely grateful server!
- Tax on top, not included.
This is something that had me stumped at first, I thought I was just being dumb for the longest time! Until one day I asked a cashier why I was paying more than the label stated and they kindly explained. I’m not sure what the ratio is for countries in the world that include tax in the price against those that don’t but I know which I prefer! There are some things the UK could learn from N. America, this however, is not one of them.
- Not being offered a cup of tea when you go into someone’s house.
In England, it is practically a criminal offense to not offer someone a cup of tea when they enter your home. There’s not too much I miss from the UK but this is something I definitely think North America could benefit from by adopting into the culture. So now you know, if I’m ever in your house, yes, I’d love a cuppa and mine’s with a splash of milk. Cheers!
So on the whole, traveling across the pond is not going to fester up too many surprises for most, though it is the small differences that make it so interesting! And there you have it, some unimportant ramblings about some observations I’ve made.
Sincerely, a Brit in a Canadian band.