9 Faux Pas In The UK That Wouldn't Even Raise An Eyebrow In America
I am the expert of making a fool of myself in the United Kingdom. I once yelled "MOTHERF*CK" delightedly in a corridor, oblivious to the fact that British standards of swearing are a lot more conservative than Australian ones, and nearly caused a small, horrified riot. I call people "mate" when they realistically should be addressed as "professor." And I didn't learn how to make tea properly until my Welsh husband taught me, essentially so he didn't have to commit a mercy killing. Hence, if you're looking for a guide to what's just not cricket, old chap, in the British Isles, I am your (very embarrassed) faux-pas-committing woman.
Americans abroad don't have the best reputation for good manners. While a lot of you are respectful, cheerful, and polite sorts, a few bad apples have spoilt the bunch by being aggressive and/or ridiculous, or by having arguments about why nothing is in Proper American English. If you don't want to embarrass yourself, cause blushes and pained expressions in nice Brits, or end up in a yelling match in a pub, these are nine things to definitely avoid.
One additional point: If you do bollocks it up (a British term for "make an utter fool of yourself"), apologize, at great length. Brits love apologies; make them frequently, and base most of their social interactions around them. You will endear yourself immediately.
1. Putting a teabag in hot water, and not the other way around.
I learned this at my peril. There is a Very Particular Method to the tea brewing of the British, and they are outrageously offended if you do it wrong. To wit: Putting water on top of teabag (or tea strainer) is good, and putting tea into water is bad. Don't ask me, I don't know. But it's the sort of thing that makes you look incredibly foreign if you do it wrong, and British people will start to innately distrust you.
2. For that matter, putting milk into a teacup before tea.
Pouring tea into milk is, objectively, just wrong. I understand this completely as a scientific faux pas as well as a manners-based one. It would probably make the Queen faint, and would definitely mean you were never put in charge of the tea ever again. Which may have been your aim, frankly.
3. Referring to anything as a "cookie" when it's definitely a biscuit.
This is a point of cultural difference, but defer to local custom. What you think of as a biscuit is in fact a scone or cake. What you think of as a cookie? That's a biscuit. "Bis-cuit." "Twice-cooked." Biscuit. Not a cookie.
4. Not saying "thank you" to a bus driver.
This might not be the case in London, where things are busier than where I am. But it's fair to say that in the UK, manners maketh man, and manners particularly maketh bus passengers as they get off into the pouring British rain and turn to their driver, who's just put up with sodden money, soggy floors, and steamed-up windows for 40 minutes. "Thank you," they say. If not, they are regarded as heathen scum who don't deserve public transportation.
5. Not lining up properly.
I am Australian. In my part of town, we all mill gently for the bus, and then get on in an orderly, laid-back sort of way when it turns up. Not so in the UK. If you don't get in line, stay in line, and vigilantly police the line — making sure that cutters are sent to the back, and not allowing any friends to join you — you are a traitor to the cause and are basically starting the Revolutionary War all over again.
6. Using the word 'fanny' to mean bottom.
This is not what "fanny" means in the British Isles. For reasons that are slightly linguistically complicated, "fanny" means "vagina" to the Brits. You are going to need to remember that before you start complaining of a bruise on your fanny to your college adviser. Otherwise, they might faint or try to arrest your partner.
7. Mixing up black and white ties.
It's not a cardinal sin, but you will be seen as spectacularly stupid if you don't at least look up the difference between the two and turn up in the right one. And no, it's not just about the color of your tie (spelled "colour" in the UK, and they will brook no argument about that).
8. Assuming the United Kingdom is one country, not several.
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. They are all part of the United Kingdom. But try telling an Irish person that they're English, or saying to a Scot that "you're all the same, really". You'll be kicked out of the pub with a flea in your ear faster than you can apologize in five dialects. National pride: Don't f*ck with it.
9. Spelling "apologise" with a "z" — and pronouncing it "zee."
Spelling things in the American way drives Brits of all kinds of completely mental. Do not get into a long argument with anybody about how the American way of introducing "z"s where they frankly have no place, or leaving out perfectly reasonable "u"s, is normal and acceptable. It will not end well. And that letter is pronounced "zed" if you want to get out alive.
Images: PBS, Giphy (9)