· British Things Americans Should Adopt ASAP ·
When I studied abroad as an undergrad, our professors warned us about reverse culture shock – the feeling of culture shock we might experience when we returned to the US after three and a half months out of the country. While I remember experiencing this a bit, it was nothing on the reverse culture shock I’m experiencing now, after a year and a half of living in London. A year and a half that I didn’t return to the US once.
While the transition back to the US has been hard for many reasons, I’ve also found this reverse culture shock to be especially distressing. No more pubs, no more quick train rides to see a new castle or manor house, no more self-deprecating humor and “taking the mick.” Thus, I have concluded that there are some things we in America need to embrace immediately.
Hot Water Kettles
It has been alarmingly disconcerting to go to make an instant coffee in the afternoon or a cup of tea and not immediately reach for the hot water kettle. I don’t mean those tea kettles that sit on the stove. I mean electric hot water kettles that boil water in what feels like seconds.
For some reason, I’ve found this one of the hardest transitions. Water boiled in the microwave just doesn’t taste the same. While I know there are some Americans who use these kettles (my freshman roommate illicitly kept one in our dorm), to my knowledge, they’re not widely used here in the US.
According to Business Insider, this is due to the difference in voltage in American and British households. This difference makes it so that it takes longer for kettles to boil in the US, but even with this delay, I think Americans could come to appreciate the ease of the electric hot water kettles – even if they don’t drink tea!
French Press Coffee
On the topic of handy uses of a kettle, many British households use a French Press to make their coffee. Instead of bulky, unattractive coffeemakers, the chic French Press offers an elegant alternative that makes you feel like royalty. Again, many Americans do already use this, but not to the extent of our British and European counterparts.
Perhaps it is simply too labour-intensive for us in the morning so we’d prefer to just press a button. I promise, though, the payoff is a richer tasting coffee and the satisfaction of feeling put together in the morning!
Okay, so this one is complicated. In some ways, Brits can come off as kind of rude, as they like to keep to themselves (more on this later). However, when you do talk to them, they have a much more pleasant and polite way of interacting. The cadence of their sentences – they sort of lift up at the end – and the way they construct their sentences exudes a much kinder sounding delivery.
I used to consciously change the way I spoke as a Visitor Services Assistant at the National Portrait Gallery because I was aware that Americans can come off as abrupt and rude in their way of speaking. About six months into living in London, I started really paying attention to how British people interacted with me and others. This led me to actively try to be kinder and politer in my approach.
Bloomsbury International boils part of it down to using positive adjectives: rather than using a negative adjective, British people tend to use a qualified positive adjective such as “isn’t very ____.” Instead of saying something is bad or awful, they say it isn’t very nice. Rather than ugly, something might be not very pretty. On paper, it isn’t a very big difference, but it can make a big impact.
Not only that, but the Brits tend to over-use “sorry.” So while it’s perfunctory and sometimes not sincere, it also contributes to their nicer approach to interacting. I’ve noticed this a lot since returning as people I’ve encountered have seemed especially rude to me. In Britain, they might say, “Oh I’m really sorry, but…” whereas here, we’re told, without apology, what we can or cannot do. It’s such a simple approach, without much extra effort, yet it truly makes life so much more pleasant.
While interactions are polite, as I mentioned, they can be few and far between. I’ve noticed the (often unintentional) rudeness of some people here in the States, but I’ve also noticed some people’s overly friendliness.
In England, I got used to going about my business without having to interact with strangers very much. For someone who is shy, I appreciated this approach. Back in the US, I’ve rediscovered that a quick trip to grab a pint at the bar can result in a 10-minute interrogation into my background and that walking past people can sometimes require eye contact and a nod hello.
Call me anti-social, but I really don’t feel like I need to share my life story with someone I’ll interact with for 5 minutes, and I certainly don’t need to hear theirs either. Wouldn’t it be nice to have peace of mind getting on a six-hour flight knowing that you definitely won’t be seated next to someone who will talk your ear off??
Less is more
Okay Americans, this is the big one. I know it’s going to be hard for many to wrap their minds around, but after a year and a half in England, I came to fully appreciate how wasteful our country is in its use of space. Our houses are bigger, our cars bigger, our roads bigger, our produce bigger, our appliances… almost everything is bigger and I don’t think it’s better.
You could argue that we just physically have more space to spread out. However, I think we should take a hard look at our lifestyles and ask ourselves if we really need four bedrooms for a two-person couple or a pickup truck that will never pick anything up. As for the produce, that speaks to our use of chemicals in growing, and I’m sure contributes to our waste. Personally, as a small person shopping for myself, I appreciated being able to buy small apples that I could happily eat in its entirety (in the States, I typically eat half an apple at a time) and broccoli in small enough portions that I could eat it myself before it went bad.
After living with this less is more ethos for over a year, I wish that we as a society could take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we really need these super-sized things?
There are so many things that I miss about England and wish I could recreate here in the US. I’m still getting used to being back in my home country and pining for hot water kettles and chips, but there are few things that we have right here, too. For example, while I’ll be the first to tell you that English cheddar cheese is far superior to our facsimile, I was appalled that my British boyfriend put cheddar cheese on EVERYTHING: pizza, pasta, LASAGNA. While there are many reasons I wish I were back in the UK, at least I have a choice of good cheese to cook with now.
Ultimately, we both have a lot to learn from each other. The US and the UK are two countries that share a common language, some common history, and a similar popular culture. Yet because of our relative similarities, it makes the differences all that more profound. Here in the US, there are the things we have gotten right, and there are also the things that the UK has gotten right. And there are, of course, things that are right but different in both places. It’s in learning about these differences and similarities that traveling can help us develop empathy and make us more understanding people. While I’m having a hard time transitioning back to my home country, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.