Thursday, April 24, 2008

Annoying British Expats

The verb, not the adjective. Sephe over at Crazy Brits, did a recent post on how to annoy Brits, in England I think. It set me thinking about what annoys Brits (or at least me) over in the States. I originally thought about doing "How to Annoy Americans" but a) I don't annoy anyone, and b) Americans rarely admit to being annoyed (apart from New Yorkers), they just call everything "a learning experience".

So, without wishing to really piss anyone off, here are the things Americans do which I find a bit irritating:

- insisting on "bringing something" whenever they are invited round to dinner. I know this comes from generosity, but usually when I plan a meal, I make sure the courses complement each other, and I don't ask people over only to have them feed themselves. I have learned however, that saying "Just bring yourselves" will still result in a salad at the very least, so I usually suggest a little something, usually alcaholic.

- insisting on cleaning up at the end of the meal. Helping clear the table is one thing, but if my hubby and I look like we want to sit and relax after a meal, please don't disappear into my kitchen and leave me feeling guilty. I won't get up and help you, but I will feel like a bad hostess for a minute or two.

- and talking about clearing up, I have never met an American who does the dishes "properly". (Americans - I know this is a mutual intolerance). Americans need two sinks at the very least, but don't worry about a plug as they seem to wash and rinse everything in running water, usually getting it all over the floor into the bargain. Since very few kitchens in the US have built-in draining boards or a dish rack, a towel will then be placed on the counter top and dishes, pans etc. precariously piled there. This towel can be either a dish towel or a hand towel, they don't seem to have a preference, or indeed be able to tell the difference. Some Americans actually dry the dishes, but many then stack them (the right way up, so the water never drains out) somewhere vaguely where they should go. My hubby puts everything on the stove top whether it is a pan or not, because we've only lived here for four and a half years so it's all still all a mystery.

- putting your children above all else. Now I know as parents, this is what we are supposed to do. I also admit that sometimes in the UK, the "seen and not heard" thing can be taken a bit too far, but Americans, unless your child is bleeding from the head, please don't cut me off mid-sentence just because s/he has no manners. At least have the decency to tell the child to wait a second. This probably happens at least once a day. Perhaps I'm just too boring to hold someone's attention for more than a nano-second, but often I'm just answering a question or otherwise being helpful. However, as soon as the blessed off-spring is on the radar, the attention level dips, followed by "What sweetie?" as the parent drops to the child's eye level and engages in a loving discussion about where they will have lunch that day, or how long it's going to take to drive the half mile to Yoga Munchkins in the traffic. I have now taken to either saying "See you later" or just discontinuing the conversation, although neither reaction usually registers.

- not saying "Please". Most Americans are actually quite polite, but for some reason, the word "please" is absent from everyday conversation. I have done years of silent, unscientific surveys on this and any American who takes issue is encouraged to do the same. What happens is that the inflection sounds very polite, and in the south you can even hear long introductions such as "Would you go ahead and pass me the doo-hickey", but the actual word just isn't there. After 18 years here, my British spine still stiffens and my own children get a swift clip across the back of the head if they fail to meet the standard.

OK, that's enough (light-hearted) moaning. I don't want to hear from the one American who has a draining board either!


  1. Children thing. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

    Did I mention yes?

  2. Me too on the kids thing. I have never heard the words, "Don't interrupt, Mummy's talking" or "Don't interrupt Mr Smith is talking" from an Egyptian mother.

    In six years, I've heard it once from an expat mother (so I made friends with her!).

  3. The kid thing bugs the hell out of me. They never say excuse me in the appropriate place either. I am very guilty of starting my sentences with "I wonder if I could...?". "Is it possible....?" It's like I am talking nonesence - I can see them glaze over!!

  4. I absolutely agree about the kids interrupting. In fact, just the other day ...hang on, Squirrel just came in to tell me something about her pink unicorn. I'll be right back.

  5. Very good! I do however, miss the bringing things to a meal in the UK - I am a terrible cook and it would make my life much easier if english people had the concept of 'pot luck'!!

  6. How fascinating. I have spent my entire children's lives sort of brutalising them into a WAIT *UCK IT frame of mind if I am busy discussing, gosh, anything. And they're more than happy obliging. Hey, they're children, they inhabit a separate plane in which they just invent. But even NICE friends of mine do that bending at the middle bit, cutting ME off to tend to pointless needs of junior. It just drives you mad. And is there gratitude from Junior?? Splutter. And I haven't got onto the washing up / bringing things thing. The deal HERE surely is, you turn up with vino and either chocs or flowers (because all my chums are so very nice) but you sit looking just dandy at the table and the hostess does just as much or as little clearing up as suits her and the rest of you carry on gabbling. And spend the rest of the next day reliving that self same gabbling with various levels of shame and regret.

  7. Oh Milla you've made me homesick for a decent English dinner party where, depending on the wine (and port) consumption, it can end up in a flaming argument but everyone remains friends anyway. And of course, nothing gets washed up that night.
    And to all who agree about the rude parent/child thing - I feel good knowing it's not just me being a miz old cow!

  8. The children thing seems to happen over here, too. Any adult seems to bend over & listen to a child when another adult isin mid flow.
    I notice children at school snatch & I'm always reminding them of please & thank you.
    Japanese culture seems to be to slop water over everything too!

    May be its all universal!

  9. Absolutely point #2!! I was gobsmacked one Thanksgiving to find all my female friends racing in to the kitchen to wash up and berate me for not having enough tupperware to house leftovers. While I like the generosity of spirit involved, please, your presence is needed more in the dinner party conversation than at the washing up!!

  10. The child thing is a big YES!

    Haven't noticed the 'please' issue but will now start

    What bugs me is nobody around here drinks alcohol in a big Brit' way and they don't do New Years Eve really at all...I guess that's being out 'in the country'!

    Btw - how to annoy a Brit' - ask them if they're an Aussie!

  11. There is an award waiting for you over at my place

  12. From my study of americans based upon their films they never lock their cars or go to the toilet either, and they seem to wake up having done their hair and makeup before they went to bed. I can't vouch for how accurate a picture this is though...

  13. I have no experience with Americans but I was so pleased that you too have a husband who believes everything that comes out of the dishwasher belongs on the stove! We have lived here 7 years and mine is still doing it, so your mystery has a few more years to run yet!

  14. What a great post! It annoys me when people don't say please (or thank you for that matter). I love your blog! :)

  15. Wow, I seem to be in the majority with all my complaints rather than the mix old cow I thought I was.
    Welcome novelist, suburbia and Retired & crazy. Thanks for the award - I will be right over.
    Brit gal - I think the further south you go the less they (appear to) drink. We usually find the other Brits to have a good session with but with three kids, it's not that often these days.
    Rilly - I have to say that I quite often don't lock my car even in Chicago. That kind of theft just isn't as common here, although you can get your head blown off walking through the car park! And as I mentioned in a past post, they don't go to the loo because everyone can see through the gaps at either side of the doors!

  16. MIZ old cox, although I am mixed up too.

  17. Yes..the gaps either side of the loo doors always bothers me, I'd forgotten that!
    Rilly has beaten me to it on the wake-up and look glam front and I agree with everything Milla says.
    I don't have a draining board either and even I don't know what to do with the dishes.
    My MIL always asks if she can bring something when we she's coming to eat (she lives 500 yards away). I always say no thank you.
    She always brings something.

  18. Well, the kid thing bothers me here in the UK as well, especially when they have to have a children's menu because they only eat one or two things. I don't know what heathens you've met who don't know how to wash dishes and don't have a draining board. But britgirl is right: the best way to annoy a Brit is to ask if they're Australian (which is how I charmed my husband when I met him). I'm going to check on the please thing next time I'm in the States.

  19. Ok, so, I bought a horrible plastic draining board when I realised my house didn't have one. Just yesterday I had a last minute invite to dinner and went into a quandry about whether I should take anything. As I'd accepted an invite for drinks which by the time I left home had become dinner, ExpatOwl said no. I'm still worried we've offended people.
    My tongues still sore from biting it to prevent myself commenting on the children thing!

  20. This is so funny and so true! I've not been over a while (sorry!) and have just caught up. Love the marriage (re) vows. And I totally agree with the please thing. A hundred "Have a nice day"s doesn't cut it. Don't wish me a nice day! Just say please and thank you! Grrr.

    Checked out crazy brits' post too - brilliant both of you.

  21. ooo great! I love bitching! How interesting to read the differences...the child thing would annoy the hell out of me. I do the 'I'm talking!!!!!!!!' singsong voice with serial killer undertone. Works a treat.

  22. That please and thank you business annoys the hell out of me, too.

    An American at the deli counter:

    "Gimme 1/2 a pound of roast beef."
    Assistant does so, customer leaves.

    Me at deli counter:

    "Could I have 1/2 a pound of roast beef, please."

    Assistant hands over said meat.

    Me, "Thank you."

    There, that wasn't so difficult, was it?

  23. As an American, I'm a little sad to say that I agree with everything you commented on in your post. It does always aggravate me when women get up to help clean, and the men just SIT THERE. I don't want anyone to get up, but I do hate that the gender roles are so specific.

    I must say, however, that Brits do have the smallest sinks ever. Your comment on that did crack me up; because I can't imagine how anyone can get through life with a little doll's house sink. We are in a new house and it too has a teeny sink. However, I am a FIRM believer that EVERYTHING goes in the dishwasher. Screw washing it by hand; that's why we have a dishwasher in the first place!!

  24. Oh yes, that child centred parenting really irks me! Have you noticed it on Tv too with the bratty, too smart for their own age kids on sitcoms with the dumb parents?! Ugh...

  25. In reference to the original post;

    Please and Thank You are deeply ingrained in my vocabulary. Even in the most minor conversations, they are as ubiquitous as yes and no to me, and should I ever have children, I shall do my best to ingrain the practice in them.

    As for parents allowing their children to interrupt conversations, I agree wholeheartedly that this is quite rude, and as a point, ties in to the matter of politeness. If the matter is urgent (which children often apply to many things; ie "Beth took my toy"), it had better be important. However, if an adult conversation must be interrupted, it should always begin with "Excuse me", and never with the every popular incessant nagging "mom, mom, mom..." - Children are just that - Children, and no matter how intelligent or mature you may think they are, they are still children, and as such, should always recognize the authority of a parent.

    Forgive me if I wander about a bit in making my points, if you will. I mostly mean to agree with all of you, and add my perspectives as well.

    As for dinner parties and etiquette of guests - Whenever I am at a friend's home, I feel inclined to at the very least help collect the dishes and bring them to the sink. Washing them really depends on how familiar and friendly I am with the host. My perspective is that of a grateful guest - The host has spent a great deal of time preparing a nice meal and atmosphere for his or her guests, and as such, should be heartily complimented and given some modicum of courtesy in the process of clearing the table after the meal. I feel too much like I should leave a tip if someone takes my plate after a meal, it feels somewhat awkward to be waited on by a friend in that circumstance. Serving the meal is one thing, that's presentation, but clearing plates as well? I suppose that it all ends up being a matter of the company of the moment. I would want to clear plates for my guests, but that's my sense of hospitality. I'm a strange fellow, I suppose.


The more the merrier....

Blog Archive