Cultural Differences Between the UK and the US

Recently, I went on a trip to America to visit my grandparents; I have been going to the US for this purpose ever since I was little, but as I have grown up and become more aware of my surroundings, I have started to notice the subtle differences that are present between the two countries. This includes the types of social interaction that occur, as well as differences in the meaning of common words.

One difference that jumped out at me was the fact that the average American person just seems to be much more friendly than their English counterpart. This is showcased in situations such as when going into a shop (which they normally call a ‘store’), where a customer need only walk in the door for the shop assistant to make them feel welcome by immediately asking if they need help with finding anything specific. I was so unused to this that it actually made me feel a bit awkward when I had to tell them that I just wanted to look around, since in the UK, you are free to browse without the bother of having to talk to anyone. In addition to this, even when I did not buy anything before leaving the shop, I was always told to ‘have a nice day’ by this stranger who I had never even spoken to before. Having returned back to the UK, I now feel a bit offended that people no longer wish for my day to be a nice one.

Another difference was the food/establishments that serve food. For one thing, America contains a very large number of ‘drive-thrus’- something that is quite rare in England. While some may think the reason for this is our love for proper spelling, it’s more likely to be the fact that Americans have a tradition of ‘road trips’ (where people travel by car through multiple different states within the USA). The UK does not have this in quite the same way, as it is physically a much smaller country, therefore, people do not spend as much time in their cars for leisurely travel purposes as Americans do, so would be less likely to treat themselves to a stop at a drive-thru McDonalds along the way.

The final difference that I will address is the discrepancies between seemingly well-known words; it’s quite surprising to see just how many differences there are, even though both countries speak the same language, albeit ‘American-English versus British-English’. For example, my grandma would refer to her ‘pocketbook’: saying that she needed to get it from inside, and then emerging with her handbag, while I had been imagining that she meant some kind of small novel. Another interesting language difference is their use of the word ‘bathroom’, i.e. this is used to refer to what we in Britain would normally call the ‘toilet’ or the ‘loo’. Apparently, using the word ‘toilet’ is seen as vulgar, so ‘bathroom’ is substituted, even when the room in question does not actually contain a bath.

By Isabella Davidson