While we may share a common language (though even that is debatable at times), the United States and the United Kingdom differ a lot. In addition to our currencies, time zones, and the side of the road we drive on, there are plenty of subtle customs, expectations, and beliefs that prove just how large the divide is between our two nations. So keep these differences in mind before you head across the pond, or you may find yourself bruised, broke, or even behind bars!
In the United States, police officers are known to carry guns — after all, they often engage with highly dangerous criminals. While the United Kingdom may not be crime-free, regular UK police officers do not carry firearms. They tend to only rely on specially trained Authorised Firearms Officers (AFO) during escalated situations.
Alarmingly, the United States is one of the only developed nations in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave for new mothers. The 12 weeks that mothers are entitled to are all unpaid. UK mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, with 39 of them being paid to varying extents.
As a nation of tea connoisseurs, the British pride themselves on making tea the traditional way, namely by boiling water using a kettle. Americans, on the other hand, typically warm their tea in a microwave — an act that their British counterparts would view as blasphemy!
In the UK, the price see you on an item is the price you pay — but not in the US! With each US state determining its own sales tax rate, the price tags you see in stores display the price of the product before tax, not after like in the UK. An important fact for tourists to know when budgeting their next trip to America!
If there’s one thing that confuses the British the most, it’s when Americans refer to winning sports teams as “world champions” when they only compete within the US. For example, Major League Baseball’s championship is the World Series, yet only teams from the US (and one from Canada) can qualify!
While the United States has a huge array of both public and private universities, the majority of universities in the UK are public. While not unheard of, private universities and colleges are few and far between in Britain.
It seems like the British take electrical safety very seriously. Every UK plug features an on/off switch that is particularly useful for protecting people against accidental fires and electrical shortages. In the US, such switches are nonexistent.
In the United States, restaurant patrons will willingly give their credit cards to their servers upon receiving the check. British patrons, on the other hand, would become paranoid very quickly if this happened in the UK! Instead, British waiters bring a credit card reader to the table.
United Kingdom residents who find themselves in an emergency situation can rest assured that any ambulance services they receive will cost next to nothing. In fact, the average ambulance call in the UK costs just £7! In the US, however, these same services can cost hundreds of dollars, even exceeding the $1,000 mark in some instances.
In the United States, the Constitution is a codified legal document that serves as the ultimate law of the land. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, does not regard its constitution as highly. While there is technically a constitution in the UK, it’s mostly a collection of general common laws rather than a codified document of the highest legal authority.
In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. Considering that British people can start drinking at 18, some younger UK tourists will be disappointed to learn that having a pint while vacationing in the US is a no go.
In the eyes of the British, the tipping culture in America is a bit too much. After all, Americans seem to tip everyone — from bellhops to doormen to even attendants at beauty salons. In the UK, tipping is largely limited to restaurants, hotel visits, and services such as haircuts.
With such enormous portions in restaurants, it should come as no surprise that the US has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. What’s more, it’s commonplace for American restaurants to offer free refills on drinks — something that’s virtually unheard of across the pond.
While both the UK and the US are strict when it comes to social conformity, there are some instances where Americans will ask to cut in line. In the UK, cutting in line is virtually unheard of and severely frowned upon.
For most foreigners visiting the United States, the number of pharmaceutical commercials they’re bound to see on TV is astounding. This is because the US and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world where direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is legal!
In the US, most people who live in suburbs rely on their cars as their sole mode of transportation. That’s not the case in the UK, however. British car owners will often travel on foot to run nearby errands, such as visiting their local grocery store or pharmacy.
If you had to imagine what the standard American breakfast looks like, pancakes would probably spring to mind. In the UK, however, pancakes aren’t exactly a breakfast staple, with most British people only eating them on occasions such as Shrove Tuesday. No wonder IHOP never set up any franchises across the pond!
Now, for a positive one! Some British people have remarked on how friendly Americans are. What was particularly impressive to them was how willing Americans were to help someone in need, even a stranger. Such behavior is not as commonplace in the UK.
Americans seem to be a little obsessive when it comes to topping off every drink with a bucketload of ice. In the UK and much of Europe, most beverages are often served at room temperature with little to no ice.
The UK, like many European countries, is big on limiting wastefulness. As part of this effort, UK toilets typically use just 1.28 gallons of water per flush — the average throne in the US uses anywhere from 3.5 to 7. On top of that, most British visitors can’t wrap their head around that weird space between the floor and the stall in public restrooms.
While the U.S. and Britain basically share the same language, it’s important to understand that certain American slang terms mean something much different overseas. For example, when someone doesn’t show up to a planned hangout in America, we say we’ve been “blown off” — in Britain, this same term means to break wind!
For Americans visiting the UK, it may seem like innocent fun to try and provoke a member of the Queen’s Guard, and for the most part, they’ll tolerate a little lighthearted teasing. Touch one of these soldiers, however, and they have the right to draw their weapon on you. Yikes!
Americans should also keep in mind that while England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all use the pound as their form of currency, not all pounds are the same. Specifically, Northern Ireland and Scotland both use alternative pounds notes that will get you some pretty odd looks if you try to use them in England or Wales.
In the US, we’re obsessed with getting our own tabs. Even if someone pays for you, it’s common to get them right back on Venmo or with cash. In England, things are a little different: you pay for the round, then your friend does the same next time!
Some Europeans are big on the kiss hello — Britain, however, is not one of them. Don’t even go for a hug on the first meet either: a simple handshake will do the trick.
If you’re looking to kick a ball around with some local Brits, don’t ask if they want to play soccer — it’s called football! This is the case pretty much everywhere in the world, and calling the sport “soccer” will only out you as an American.
Maybe skip the souvenir ducks on your next trip to Britain, especially if you’re in London. The nation’s capital has a whopping 20% sales tax, whereas New York City’s is around 8%.
Believe it or not, Brits having bad teeth is more of a stereotype than an actual fact. That’s why you should never joke about someone’s teeth while visiting the U.K. — or really anywhere, for that matter. How rude!
You may have heard of fish and chips or Britain’s crazy good South Asian food, but make sure to go to an affordable, authentic restaurant to enjoy them. You might otherwise risk a crazy surcharge (and a few unwanted trips to the restroom).
Another thing to not even think about making fun of is the British accent. Even if your cockney is spot on, most Brits won’t take too kindly to you making a joke of the way they speak.
England is a country, but the United Kingdom is made up of four! England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all comprise the U.K., so make sure you know what you’re referring to!
The Queen and her family might be famous cultural figures, but locals definitely don’t know her personally and probably never will! For that reason, you should never ask if a local Brit is chummy with Her Majesty — you’ll just look plain dumb.
It looks more topsy turvy than it actually is, but British roads are the opposite of American ones when it comes to the side they drive on. Even the steering wheels are on the other side of the car!
If you’re looking for something thick and fluffy to dip into the leftover juices on your plate, the last thing you’d want to ask for when in Britain is a biscuit. Instead of a warm, buttery bite, you’ll be handed a cookie!
You might have already heard that London is gray, cloudy, and rainy most of the time. But did you know that five separate air masses meet above the United Kingdom? Any moment could turn tropical or polar, so make sure to pack for all occasions.
Manners matter everywhere, but they’re especially important in England. The culture here is all about being polite, so even if you aren’t feeling too sunny, always be sure to respond positively if someone happens to ask you how you are.
When you’re hangry, dining etiquette is typically the last thing on your mind. Yet even though snapping your fingers or waving to call your waiter over might fly in other parts of Europe, doing so in Britain is the quickest way to wind up with spit in your food.
The Brits are half and half when it comes to the metric system, so don’t be fooled when you spot road distances that read in miles or pub menus that serve pints. Everything else in Britain is measured in metric, and their “imperial pint” is actually bigger than ours!
If you’re from New York City, this one might not be that much of a surprise: don’t talk to strangers. It’s not necessarily that they’ll be rude — it’s just taboo and far from the norm in Britain.