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How to Piss Off a Brit

United Kingdom
by Tom Stockwell Sep 7, 2015

A land of rolling green hills and tea parties, girls with tramp stamps vomiting on city streets on a Saturday night and hooded teens rolling through city centres blasting the latest Happy Hardcore mix on their more-than-likely stolen phones.

England has both, and is quite often a far cry in real life from how it’s portrayed in Hollywood, with producers who seem to think the land is populated with well-meaning yet simple country-folk, dastardly yet dashing criminal masterminds, and a humourless elite whose tendency to inbreed results in wealthy yet charmless individuals. Then again, any producer who’s seen Made in Chelsea could be forgiven for perpetuating that last stereotype.

Despite our differences, though, there are a few universal ways to piss off a Brit.

Tell us we don’t spell things properly.

“Why do you put a ‘u’ in there? There’s no ‘u’ in color,” comes the slow Southern drawl or the upper East Coast voice dripping with condescension. The American butchering of our fair native tongue has long been a sore point. Our neighbours across the ocean think it’s acceptable to remove the ‘h’ from ‘yoghurt’, change the letter ‘s’ to the letter ‘z’, and leave out half the letters from the word ‘doughnut’ whilst still spelling ‘dough’ the same.

It was our language first and, quite frankly, we don’t care for your excuses about language evolving and removing unnecessary vowels from words. The Canadians and Australians didn’t commit such heinous acts. Lazy spellers — yes, you, Americans — who then tell Brits, the people who cobbled together English, that they can’t spell words properly, piss Brits off.

Although we’ll probably just flash you a brief smile, no teeth, and then glare at you for the rest of the evening while mentally compiling a list of words you’ve decapitated. Honour, saviour, favourite, flavour…

Jump the queue.

A monstrous roar echoed through the courtyard of France’s most elaborate palaces, setting heads turning and voices murmuring. No, it wasn’t a victim of the guillotine, but rather my stepfather bellowing his disapproval at someone who cut the very long line to get into the Palace of Versailles. The queue jumper was berated by several other Brits before being forced out of the line to his rightful place — the back of the queue.

Brits joke that queueing is a national sport, and it really should be — it’d guarantee us a few extra golds at the Olympics, as nobody can queue quite like a Brit. Queueing is sacred, and anybody who dares try to disturb the order of the line will be met with icy stares and stern voices. Brits can generally let a lot of things slide when it comes to things we deem to be bad manners, but queue jumping is never one of them.

We don’t care that you’ve been waiting in line for 20 minutes and need to get back to the office or the baby you left in the car. If we’re in front of you, we’ve been waiting even longer for to send our letter / order our tuna mayonnaise sandwich / return the hideous shirt that our aunty gave us for our birthday.

Tell us you love English accents.

“Guys who have an English accent are so sexy!”

“Ohmygawd, I love how English people talk!”

“The English accent makes me melt.”

Stop. Right. There. What exactly do you mean by an English accent? Are you talking Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice? Alan Rickman when he plays, you know, the evil guy in that movie? Or did you somehow stumble into the dark abyss of television known as Geordie Shore? You see, there’s no such thing as an ‘English accent’, and there never will be, no matter how much you protest.

Go to Leeds, or Newcastle, or Liverpool, or Birmingham, or Plymouth, and see how many people who speak like Mr. Darcy you’ll find there. Describing an English accent is like describing an American accent — someone from Wisconsin sounds different from a Washingtonian, who, in turn, sounds nothing like a West Virginian.

The same is true of almost everywhere. People in northern Vietnam speak differently from those in southern Vietnam, and Koreans in Seoul speak very differently from the throaty tones of those in the southeast of the country, or the barely comprehensible blabber of those from the islands that lie between Korea and Japan.

Before you tell a Brit that you love English accents, stop and ask yourself: Does everyone in every region of your country speak the same? Unless you’re from the likes of Liechtenstein or Tuvalu, probably not. Be a bit more specific, and tell us if you love how the newsreader on the BBC is speaking, or if you wish it were one of the Arctic Monkeys talking with his gruff voice, cultivated on the streets of Sheffield.

Use archaic slang, yet not understand slang we actually use.

“Evening, guv’nor!” comes the cheery greeting, accompanied by a swinging arm gesture and what could possibly be interpreted as an attempt at a Cockney accent. A wholehearted attempt, but a major fail nonetheless. I look around to see if there is indeed a 19th-century chimney sweep standing behind me but, alas, no. The greeting is directed at me. I can’t disguise the weary sigh that comes at the end of my dreary, forced chortle.

Dozens, nay, hundreds, probably thousands of Brits have been subjected to such well-meaning yet horribly unfunny greetings or efforts at using British slang by those visiting our shores. Nobody says ‘jolly good’ anymore, ‘spiffing’ is only used in an ironic sense among friends, and no matter what Gretchen Wieners tries to tell you, ‘fetch’ is most definitely not “slang from England.”

What makes matters worse is that when we Brits try to use actual slang in conversations with foreigners, like ‘bollocks’ or ‘minging’, you have no idea what we’re talking about. And you have no idea why the word ‘fanny’ is so much funnier to us than it is to you. Watch a few episodes of The Inbetweeners and learn, before you attempt to seriously slip the phrase ‘righty-o then’ into the mix.

Tell us that our food is rubbish.

Sure, we might not have the culinary legacy of our neighbours in France or Spain, and we might have adopted another country’s creation as our national dish — thanks, India! — but British food is far from rubbish. This accusation especially stings when coming from a person who hasn’t been out of the tourist zone in central London, where cardboard fish and chips and overpriced cheese sandwiches seem to be the menu du jour.

Find a traditional carvery and wolf down a roast dinner. Go to an actual chippy and try the fish and chips, one where you eat out of a newspaper and not off of a plate. Try the apple crumble for dessert, and make sure it’s slathered in custard. And had a heavy night? Go for the full English breakfast. There’s no better cure.

Our food’s not rubbish. You’re rubbish for not making the effort to veer off the Piccadilly line when looking for somewhere to eat.

Assume all Brits are prim and proper.

“Brits are so prudish,” is an accusation I commonly hear being thrown around. Usually by Yanks who are, in my experience, far more Puritanical than the average Brit. Despite our often steely exteriors when you first meet us, we Brits are by no means prudish. We just take a while to warm up to you and won’t refer to someone we’ve only known for a week as our “new best friend.”

Here’s a newsflash: Downton Abbey isn’t a reflection of modern-day Britain. After knowing one for a while, if a Brit is as icy to you as Maggie Smith is to her co-stars, then it simply means we don’t like you very much. We’re just too polite to tell you we despise your company, so don’t call us prudish or standoffish when you clearly suffer from a personality defect. Make friends with a Brit and you’ll see a whole different side to the culture.

Call us prudish and that’s exactly how we’ll behave when you’re around. We’ll also sarcastically use some little-used slang from the last century to rub salt into the wound. You divvy. 

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