Top 10 differences from the UK to the USA

From ModCloth Writing Team Intern, Amy Cockcroft:

(Image above: Torrential downpour in London scene found at the Sun Microsystems Startup Essentials Blog)

Hey ModCloth shoppers, lovers and fans. My top 10 is here both as a way to formally introduce myself to you, and as a way for you to help me get to grips with the massive cultural changes I’ve discovered in the past few weeks. I’m Amy, and I’m currently interning with the fashion writing team at ModCloth because I love fashion, writing, and ModCloth itself! I’ve come from England and am going into my final year as a student of English Language and Literature at the University of Newcastle. So here goes – a run-down of the things I’ve noticed as most different from one side of the ocean to the other.

Continue reading to discover the differences between the UK and the USA.

1. The language: lexicon, accent, spelling, tone, semantics. You say zucchini, I say courgette. You say sidewalk, I say pavement. You say bangs, I say fringe. This could go on and on, and to be honest, it does. Let’s just call the whole thing off.

2. Choice. There is so much choice in everyday life here in America, it’s overwhelming. It’s like Tom Hanks says in You’ve Got Mail: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee.” I can’t make those kind of snap decisions. I always come out with a plain bagel, plain coffee, and no dressing on my salad. It’s just easier that way.

3. Traditions. American’s don’t do Sunday roasts or have Christmas crackers. Brits don’t do Thanksgiving.

4. Drinking. I am 20 years old and have been legally allowed to drink back home for over 2 years. As you all know, the USA bans drinking for anyone under 21. Also, people often bring your drinks to you in the States, which doesn’t happen quite so much back home. There is a certain novelty in having to queue to get to the bar, and as helpful as it is to be waited on, it always seems to involve a lot of maths (or ‘math’) at the end of the night here, which is tough for those under the influence.

5. The Clothes.

UK: Vest………….USA: Tank
UK: Waistcoat…. USA: Vest
UK: Pumps……….USA: Keds
UK: Trousers…….USA: Pants
UK: Pants…………USA: Panties
UK: Jumper……..USA: Sweater
The sizing methods are baffling as well.

6. Sporting culture. As Gloria in the 80s cult classic movie White Men Can’t Jump told us, “Sometimes when you win, you really lose.” Apparently, however, in American sporting culture, you never ‘tie’, as it’s an unacceptable outcome here. Coming from 20 years supporting a mediocre football (‘soccer’) team, I have come to accept that sometimes a 0-0 draw is all that we’re capable of, and I don’t mind that. But after going to my first ‘ball game’ last week and seeing the Pittsburgh Pirates win (which is apparently pretty rare in itself), I found that drawing isn’t an option here.

7. The Food. I’m not complaining or blaming the country – and to be honest I’m kind of relishing in it at the moment – but the portions here are huge! I have a serious issue with waste and will not conceive of leaving any food uneaten, even if I hate it.  However, it is the norm to get your leftovers boxed here (an occurrence not common in England), and it’s like 3 meals in one. Awesome!

8. The satire. We as Brits are cast (often quite correctly) as cynical and pessimistic. I have found that Americans, on the contrary, are just downright friendly the majority of the time. It’s hard to always look on the bright side of life, but it happens here. In a similar way, the attitude towards work and the recognition of achievement is so much greater in the States. Americans commend trying and pursuing, while Brits often do not encourage until success has been had.

9. The Weather. I think the picture above says it all.

10. Geography. People in America don’t think anything of driving two hours for a day out, or five for a weekend away. Maybe this is a family thing, but embarking on a four-hour trip to Scotland was ALWAYS such an ordeal back home in the UK.

Is there anything about your culture that you think is particularly odd? Anything about the UK you miss or love? Or even anything you’d like to know about the UK?


About Richard

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  1. Avatar
    Carla 08/10/2009 at 2:36 pm #

    Why do I get the feeling alot of this is from the past weekend?

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    Katie Gilbert 08/10/2009 at 2:37 pm #

    I miss the “pavement” in London. It’s so old fashion. Also I could ride your guys’ underground all day everyday if I could without going broke by the end of the month.

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    Christine 08/10/2009 at 3:12 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! I’ve never been to England, but learning about different cultures is always interesting! Thanks for being so positive about your current culture clash!

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    Cyn 08/10/2009 at 3:20 pm #

    welcome to the US! I’m excited to hear more about the differences between the US and the UK. I love the different names for the same article of clothing. Thanks especially for the pants/panties one. That saved me from an embarrassing gaffe or two.

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    Currey 08/10/2009 at 3:28 pm #

    I spent a good half hour discussing the differences between the American Biscuit and English one with a British friend of mine. While we have the corresponding cookie here, we were unable to come up with anything in the UK quite like the American biscuit. I think the closest we gone was a scone. Not quite the same.

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    EmilyKennedy 08/10/2009 at 3:51 pm #

    On #6 – just keep calling it football. It’s better that way.

    On #7 – The other option is to split meals with a good friend or partner. My husband and I like to split meals at chain restaurants, and usually if you tell your server, he or she will bring an extra plate for you to do the divvying.

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    Kendra 08/10/2009 at 4:11 pm #

    The first time I went to England I was surprised at how many differences there are! My boyfriend is a native Londoner and I am from the Midwest, so we both had quite a culture shock traveling. One of the biggest differences we noticed had to do with the friendliness thing. When we were out shopping one time, we stopped at a gas station to get a drink of pop. We were discussing what kind to get, and I said he could choose the flavor as long as it was diet. There was a lady standing next to us, and she made a joke about that always being the way it works with couples – the girl gets to make the final decision. I laughed and chatted with her for a minute before we went back out into the car. Then, my boyfriend asked me if the woman was ok, or if she had mental problems! I was stunned. That kind of thing is so normal over here, especially in the Midwest, but was so foreign to him. Then in London, as I was checking out at Next, I said ‘Have a nice day’ to the cashier. My boyfriend’s mom was next in line, and the cashier told her that she loved Americans, and that we were always so friendly! It was a completely normal thing to say for me, but the cashier wasn’t used to it at all. Crazy!

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    Katie 08/10/2009 at 4:12 pm #

    All these differences are what make it so exciting when I travel to the UK. I love the smallness of the portions. not to mention I really like chippies 😛

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    Robin 08/10/2009 at 4:29 pm #

    I love all of the differences in the language. I wish I could say things the British way sometimes without getting completely bizarre looks.

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    rachel. 08/10/2009 at 5:04 pm #

    i think music is a huge cultural difference. i think pop music in the uk is far better than here. i think the brits have just better taste in music in general…

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    ChristyM 08/10/2009 at 5:20 pm #

    This just makes me miss London even more. I spent one year there in college, and have just been itching to go back to live there ever since!

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    ChristyM 08/10/2009 at 5:21 pm #

    This just makes me miss London even more. I spent one year there in college, and have just been itching to go back to live there ever since!

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    Anna H. 08/10/2009 at 5:22 pm #

    Oh, as if I needed ANYTHING more to make me crave to go back to the UK! I’ve been having SERIOUS yearnings all summer… if only travel across the pond weren’t such an undertaking! This post brings to mind something that happened last time I was over there, two years ago when I was doing my gap year (another thing that was until recently unheard of in the US, normal in the UK). I spent part of my gap year as a live-in helper to an old lady in Chelsea, London (HEAVEN), and one day as the weather was getting cooler and my wardrobe was changing to suit, I came in with a new purchase I’d made at Oxfam and announced to her without thinking, “I bought a new pair of pants!” Then I looked to the side and saw she had a gentleman guest over and I’d seemingly just announced an “unmentionable” purchase! Oops. :-p

    Well, anyway, welcome to the US, Amy! We are, of course, delighted to have you! 😀

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    steph 08/10/2009 at 5:45 pm #

    My boyfriend is English and we have silly moments and debates over all of the words in the brit to yankee lexicon above! He’s been studying abroad at my uni for a year now and I always laugh when he says “elevator” instead of lift. However, coming in from the rain and saying “my pants got wet” sends him a very WRONG idea.

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    C 08/10/2009 at 6:07 pm #

    It’s better to live in a city where you have almost everything walking distance or you just take the “tube” as you call it–the only cities I think you have that is Las Vegas,NY and Miami (some parts) just to get to the mall or your friend’s house in america you need to go to the free way! how complicated!–let’s clear out I am not either UK or US resident.
    I simply adore the UK.From top to bottom,and before I went there everybody told me brits were cold people.I’m glad to say I’ve found brits way more interesting and warm than what they said they’d be.So yes, I kind of prefer UK over USA 🙂 specially London…Camden Town Market anyone?

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    Lauren J Brown 08/10/2009 at 7:04 pm #

    Welcome Amy!I’m a Scot, living in NYC, reading your post makes me miss good’ole Blighty (but not the weather!). The suspenders/braces conversation is always a funny one…I was also very confused when I was asked for a ‘Sporran’, about to say-‘I didn’t bring one, I’m a girl!’ only to find out it’s an antibacterial ointment!

  17. Avatar
    allison 08/10/2009 at 7:10 pm #

    i’m pretty sure you’re allowed to drink legally if you’re under 21 and your parents let you, and you’re like over 18 or something. as long as there is supervision it’s okay

  18. Avatar
    Lauren 08/10/2009 at 7:31 pm #

    Australia has the best of both worlds.
    Especially when it comes to language.
    We use British spelling and the lexicon is a mix of British, American and our own seemingly made up words.

    On top of that we can drink and drive (not at the same time) after we turn 18.

  19. Avatar
    Lola 08/10/2009 at 8:47 pm #

    I’m a Canadian and your comments about food portion sizes and pessimism/cynicism ring true for me, too– I also find that Americans have a much more literal, much less DRY sense of humour than Canadians and Brits; this gets me into trouble sometimes when I think Americans are being ironic and they are actually being deadly serious. Whoops! Maybe it’s because self-deprecation is a huge part of both Canadian and Brit culture, so I always expect people to be laughing at themselves (as I always am at myself!) and my American pals usually are not… :)))

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    Kim 08/10/2009 at 9:00 pm #

    There is an expression that I think sums up the difference between Brits and Americans quite well. It goes something like this:

    Brits think 200 miles is a long distance, and Americans think 200 years is a long time.

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    Carrie 08/10/2009 at 9:11 pm #

    This post makes me excited to head back across the pond! I’m a Pittsburgh girl moving to London for grad school and I forgot how many of the little differences I actually miss from the last time I was there. Good post!

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    Lindsey Raker 08/10/2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Well, welcome to the good ol’ U S of A.

    I’ve wanted my whole life to visit London, and this helps me with the research I’ve been doing.


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    Becca Boo 08/10/2009 at 9:24 pm #

    My freinds parents are from Liverpool and I love to hear all their stories and look at pictures from the UK

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    Hannah 08/10/2009 at 9:32 pm #

    I live in Alabama & have an aunt, uncle, & two cousins who live in the UK… they love visiting because we switch accents when we go out places, its pretty fun 😉

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    Francesca 08/10/2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Its funny I stumbled apon this post (I normaly just look at all the great dresses), but I’m glad I did. I am going to London for school in just a few weeks. I will be there for all 4 years and am a bit nerves about the difference in culture. I hope its not too big of a shock.

  26. Avatar
    Brittany 08/10/2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Agreed, I definitely miss the tubes. Being from a family that’s already big into “soccer”, I’ve picked up the words boots, match, pitch and other great footballing terms since visiting London. There’s nothing like going to a match in the UK – Come on you whites!

  27. Avatar
    Kathryn 08/10/2009 at 11:02 pm #

    It is amazing the difference. Especially the cloths. Very interesting for me.

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    Poppy 08/10/2009 at 11:32 pm #

    As a dual citizen, I’ve spent most of my life in this crazy in between state, where I am constantly flustered about correct language usage, various legal ages, and which way to look when crossing the street (so many possibilities for getting run over). But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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    anita 08/11/2009 at 1:27 am #

    It’s so funny this… I’m Spanish and here we learn British English at School. All my fashion vocabulary was learnt on the web though, so I don’t say trousers but pants (and so on)… and I’m never sure what kind of English I speak.

    Our accent, which is taught to be British, becomes more American everyday because of the films, the NBA, the politicians and whatever from America we are everyday listening to!

    As for the laws dealing with drinking, it seems quite ridiculous for me, since we can enter a club or drink a whisky at the age of 16.

    Good topic! 🙂

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    Angel 08/11/2009 at 5:25 am #

    I’m a Brit living in Israel and I miss silly things like Tesco’s, Asda, WHSmiths… And I miss being able to speak in a language that comes naturally to me.

  31. Avatar
    Lauren 08/11/2009 at 8:04 am #

    Ha! I love this Amy. I’m a Texan married to a Brit currently living in Dublin. After 3 years of marriage my husband and I have combined our vocab and regularly have to ask each other “is this your word or mine?”

    I’m really enjoying the healthy dose of British culture and shopping over here, but the size difference is annoying. I haven’t bought a pair of pants/trousers in a year because I can’t find the right size or fit. Thank goodness for internet shopping like ModCloth 🙂

    Enjoy your time in the States!

  32. Avatar
    Kathryn 08/11/2009 at 8:33 am #

    I lived in London for one semester in college, and I definitely miss the fact that you can walk/ride everywhere you could ever want to go. Not having a car was liberating (and waist trimming)!

    I do not however miss the fact that at 5’2″ I could not find a pair of pants that were anywhere near short enough to wear.

  33. Avatar
    Molly 08/11/2009 at 8:47 am #

    Don’t forget the dangerous, horrible nettles in the UK! Evil plants!

    Great post, Amy! We’ve got the best intern ever!

  34. Avatar
    Emma Shearing 08/11/2009 at 12:15 pm #

    Thought I would leave a little comment…this website fashion thing is all very cool!

    I would just like to say: americans just don’t have good bread…i HATE sourdough…urrgh!

    Miss you


  35. Avatar
    Ashley B 08/11/2009 at 2:02 pm #

    Tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches! So weird, but so cheap and delicious.

  36. Avatar
    Joy 08/11/2009 at 5:40 pm #

    I live in LA, so every time I hear an English accent from people around me, I feel all awe-struck!! Idk why, but I find the UK fascinating!!! I love it!! I’ve been dying to visit England since I graduated from high school and still haven’t had the chance to do so….and I’m 24 yrs old now, graduated from college and have a decent career. The fashion, the people, the architecture and everything about the history and culture has kept me more than intrigued for this long! A promise I have for myself is to experience the UK lifestyle before I get married in 2 years with or without my fiance! I would trade in a romantic walk around the boardwalks on one of California’s finest beaches for a ride or “flight” on London Eye!!

  37. Avatar
    Hayly 08/11/2009 at 6:32 pm #

    Sometime I feel like living in Texas is living in a different country. Like when it comes to drinking, you can legally drink with your parents here at any age, I’m not sure about anywhere else in the States. And when it comes to geography, I know several people from the Northeast and it just baffles my mind when they talk about going to other states for a day trip. If I want to get out of Texas its at least a 7 hours drive. Language and food are also so different. I am constantly chastised for saying “ya’ll” or “fixin”. And its strange for when people ask what brisket is or get made fun of for eating grits for breakfast. Yep, the US is like a bunch of little countries on their own. Every state has their own independent culture and I love it!

  38. Avatar
    Howard 08/13/2009 at 2:43 pm #

    I cant believe that a classy lady like you would ever support a mediocre soccer team.

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    Amy 08/13/2009 at 3:08 pm #

    ahh, thanks everyone so much for your comments! It’s so funny and interesting the MASSIVE differences that you wouldn’t even think. For example, my American sister-in-law has had to stop me getting run over plenty of times because the cars come from the other direction! haha. my list could have gone on and on, I’m SO glad you all liked it and had your own thought! 🙂

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    kathy 08/15/2009 at 1:38 am #

    Hi amy … omg – you’ve gone global! Great fun to read your blogs and hear about life across the pond … though how can it possibly have been an “ordeal” to get ready to come to scotland? a misprint i’m sure! Great Aviator and Thriftland pics too!

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    Anna 08/17/2009 at 4:05 pm #

    I love this Ames!

    Having just spent 7 weeks in the USA, I have to say that my favourite difference was that I was shopping for clothes 2 sizes ‘smaller’!

    Also – I have never experienced having my accent called ‘beautiful’ before!

    Keep up the good work my lovely.

  42. Avatar
    Jackie 08/31/2009 at 10:14 pm #

    When I first came to the USA I thought it odd that all americans had a ‘back yard’ (in the UK a back “yard” is pure concrete). When I mentioned I had a garden, my US host asked “You have a garden…..what are you growing?” I said, “Grass”. He must have thought I was wierd.

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