22.11.2019

Dear Meghan: A road-tested guide to being an American in the UK

Dear Meghan,

Congratulations, you’re British now! But also, you’re American. Sometimes, this can get confusing. I’m both British (by parentage and current location) and American (by birth). And I am here to help.

Personally, I’m thrilled the royal family is finally getting some American, norm-breaking chutzpah. It’s about damn time. You should take every opportunity to make your new in-laws moderately uncomfortable by asking direct questions, being visibly enthusiastic about things, openly discussing your therapy sessions, and making an executive decision about where to have dinner when everyone is umming and awwing.

However, this delightful American audacity will only land if you learn how to navigate the more delicate corners of the post-colonial British sensibility. It’s an art form I’ve spent some time mastering.

So first, let’s talk about how you talk. The British are a little touchy about the version of the language they once dominated the globe with—and the rise of American English as the new global lingua franca. Eloquent and well-spoken as you are, here are some words you’re going to want to change right away: eggplant, zucchini, cookie, cell phone, vacuum cleaner, sweater, sneakers, truck, mail, trash, and pharmacy? Yeah, those are now aubergine, courgette, biscuit, mobile, Hoover, jumper, trainers, lorry, post, rubbish, and chemist. English people will correct you on every single one of these—even if they know exactly what you mean.

Also, change your computer’s spell-checker; they will treat your spelling of “utilize” and “color” as a sign of inferior intelligence if you don’t. And practice place names so that you can say them under duress: Grosvenor Square, Leicester Square, Marylebone as well as my personal favorite, Gloucestershire. A couple more landmines: Don’t tell the Queen you were “sick” last night (she will assume your late-night curry made a reappearance on the streets of Soho). Instead, you were “under the weather” or “feeling a bit peaky.” Likewise, do not announce to a room full of people that you’ve misplaced your pants. You’ve misplaced your trousers; your pants (or lack thereof) should probably never be mentioned in royal company.

Second, there’s politics. It’s not dysfunctional British politics you need to brush up on, but rather the American brand of chaos. Since you sound American, you are now a representative of US president Donald Trump. Every taxi driver, barista, and clerk will now want to discuss American politics with you. Just nod and grunt in agreement: They want a sounding board more than an interlocutor.

Good thing to note: nobody is sorry when they say sorry. In fact, they’re probably mildly pissed off at you. On this count, I encourage you to remain steadfastly American: Don’t apologize for existing. It’s an unwinnable game.

Oh, and the weather? It’s actually not that bad. In fact, compared to other parts of Europe it’s pretty mild, and climate change is even making the country a promising new wine region. What is bad is the national insistence on talking about the weather. A mental trick to keep your expectations low: Always bring an umbrella (even—especially—in August). Oh, and assert your place in the line of succession for hand-me-downs from on Her Majesty’s Barbour jacket collection, because I bet it’s amazing.

British celebrities are the worst. You will never be able to keep track of all those B- and C-listers, so don’t waste your energy. For the rest of your British life, people will express shock and dismay when you don’t know some niche Radio 4 presenter or the person who hosted Top of the Pops when they were 17. On this theme, watch out for “the Jeremys”: Jeremy Paxman, Clarkson, and Corbyn. These men sound very similar but actually do quite different things.

From now on prepare to be permanently confused in every country about what constitutes “the first floor.”

Also, I have some terrible news. Despite the Brit’s affinity for eating cream (single, double, whipping, clotted), there is no such thing as half and half for your coffee here. Instead, they prefer to put watery skim milk in an already watery Americano. I have no fix for this; I’m just warning you ahead of time. You’re probably going to start drinking flat whites now anyway.

But then, there are upsides! No matter how often you hear British people complain about the National Health Service, don’t listen. You will never have to utter again the words “co-pay,” “deductible,” or “premium,” or shell out for $325 bottles of generic antibiotics ever again. It’s glorious, especially when compared to America’s medieval system. Same is true for public transportation: Londoners moan (that’s “whine” to you) about the Underground because they’ve never ridden New York’s grubby, glitchy subway.

Britain’s reputation for soggy, dreary food is—happily—entirely outdated. One area that the country still dominates is in fine restaurants, excellent mass-market supermarkets, and stunning cookbooks based on cuisines from around the world. Learn the difference between a vindaloo and a korma—curries that bear only vague resemblances to their Indian precursors—and you’ll fit right in. It also can’t hurt to brush up on the nuances of the British chicken shop, perhaps with the YouTube reviews of the Pengest Munch as your guide.

There’s also the joy of ordering “tea” without the follow-up American question of “what kind?” And though you can’t call them cookies anymore, you’ll discover an astonishing profusion of things to dip in your tea, of which I never tire.

Then there’s David Attenborough, the covers of Private Eye, and completely free birth control! And let’s not forget shandy, mulled wine, and walking into a warm pub that’s older than the United States of America on a cold day. All selling points, in my opinion.

Most of all, Meghan, don’t stop being American. Don’t turn into Madonna, or one of those other expats that self-consciously take on a British accent six months after disembarking at Heathrow. Keep being you. You’ll be great.

Love,
Rosie (Oh, also, “love” as a signoff in a letter doesn’t necessarily mean “love.“)

P.S. I almost forgot: Immediately block Piers Morgan on Twitter and ignore everything he says.

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