1. I got addicted to high fructose corn syrup.
The first time I had a drink from a convenience store soda fountain, I experienced a rush akin to how I imagine meth feels. Later that day, I wanted another. I ended up having at least one every day of my trip — and really feeling like I needed it. It was a sad sight to see so many Americans clutching super-size sodas as they walked around. The real sugar we use in the UK is bad too, but doesn’t have the same narcotic effect. American friends: high fructose corn syrup is killing you. Give it up!
2. I learned the benefits of generous tipping.
Before arriving in the States, I’d heard that some wait staff are wary of British customers, fearing that they’ll either tip poorly or not at all. It’s true — we do have a very different tipping culture. When coming to the US, it’s difficult for us to shake off the ingrained idea that tipping is for great service, rather than just service.
I decided to leave a good impression of my nation’s people, such as when I was in the Billy Goat Tavern, below street level on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. I sat and had two draft beers at the bar, leaving a good tip for each. When I went to order a third, the bartender said “Put your money away. We’re buying you one!”
3. I realized my accent didn’t have superpowers.
Remember that gratuitously stereotypical scene in the movie Love Actually, where Colin’s British accent helps him to ‘make friends’ with three American girls in a Milwaukee bar? Well, that didn’t happen to me. Does it actually happen to anyone? I can’t be totally sure, because I never made it to Milwaukee.
4. I started wanting my pub beer from a can.
Pub beers from a giant can? This just doesn’t happen in England, where it’s draft or bottles only in pubs. Despite the proliferation of mouth-watering microbrews on offer everywhere, the novelty of drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon from a 24oz can in a dive bar still had not worn off after three and a half weeks in America.
5. I learned that my passport was a conversation starter.
In a Chicago establishment called The Matchbox, I emptied my pockets onto the bar and sat down to wait for a friend. Within a minute of my passport being visible, the couple beside me asked where I was from and a great conversation ensued. I tested this tactic day after day, in a variety of settings, in multiple cities. It worked every time.
6. My ego flourished in the South.
While girls didn’t seem too bothered with my accent in northern states, things changed fast as I pushed south. In Nashville, I began to feel like a minor celebrity. A group of revelers from Alabama refused to let me pay. Bachelorette and Bachelor parties invited me into their folds. Somehow I became the owner of a cowboy hat. I chatted to a girl who was deep into sketching a colorful, surrealist picture. Later on she handed me a piece of paper before disappearing into a crowd. It was her artwork, signed with a message. If your name is Annabelle and you once drew a picture titled ‘Ballerina chicken cyclops for the Brits’ — look me up!
7. I learned how to dodge questions about religion.
News of my country’s reputation as ‘Post-Christian Britain’ has traveled. Brad, a guy from Nebraska in his forties, eyed me with distaste. I’d seen him in the Nashville Downtown Hostel earlier, and now for lack of tables, the waitress in BB King’s House of Blues had seated us together. “So, are you one of those…” the next word seemed to cause real physical pain “… atheists?” I deflected the question and turned my attention to the band on stage. I’ll take great American music over a religious debate any day.
8. I learned to put my trust in total strangers.
In Louisville, I got on the wrong bus while trying to reach my motel. I ended up an hour out of the city in the wrong direction. Night had fallen. The bus driver, whose name was Mike, came to my rescue. “You’re a long way from the city! Where are you from? Oh man, England! Don’t worry yourself. I’ll get you there.”
He then drove halfway back to Louisville, chatting all the way. He flashed his lights to flag down another bus, explained to the driver what was going on, and convinced him to take me for free. It wasn’t just because I was a traveler. Mike seemed like he’d lend a hand to anyone in need.
9. I developed an aversion to impersonations.
Let’s face it, most Americans impersonate Brits by saying ‘hot water’, while sounding like Harry Potter if he was born in Victorian East London. It was charming the first few times I was treated to it, but grew old fast. To add balance, I was forced to hone my impersonation of a nasal-heavy Valley girl on steroids. If you find the idea of that annoying, then you know how I feel.
10. I was left in envy and awe at the vastness of it all.
I can go from Brighton in the south of England to Newcastle in the far north in 5 hours… In the US, it took more than that just to get over to the next state. The idea thrilled me that I could spend a lifetime exploring every corner of this country. On my night flight from Chicago O’Hare back to London, this thought lingered in my mind long after the lights around Lake Michigan had disappeared from view.