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9 Side Effects I Had as an American Living in London

by Alethea Alden Jul 14, 2016

1. Bugger, loo, and cheers are now things I say a lot.

While I’ll never pick up the accent, I have picked up some British lingo. A cheeky ask, totally knackered, can’t be arsed, he’s a wanker, that’s bullocks, taking the piss — this is all stuff I say now.
At first, I felt self-conscious when these phrases came out of my mouth. I was worried that I would seem like an American putting on a contrived British accent — that’s being a wanker. And maybe using British words when you’re not British is being a wanker too. But I’m surrounded by people who talk that way, so I decided my fear was bullocks and I’ve succumbed. I just can’t be arsed anymore.

2. And I’m no longer confused by all the words that mean different things in British and American English.

While there are tons of “same” words that need translating between British and American, there are a few that initially caused me the most trouble:

Well done means you did a really good job. Unwell or Poorly means sick. But sick means nauseous. Trousers are pants. Pants are underwear. Midday is specifically 12 pm. Bill is check. Check means some random drink or food item being brought to you that you didn’t order. University means college. College is similar to high school. Crisps mean chips. And chips are fries.

3. I’ve developed the skills to identify a good pub.

London is littered in every type of pub imaginable, from the old man’s place to the corporate chain, to the ever expanding number of craft beer pubs, and everything in between. After a lot of trial and error, I have learned what constitutes a “good pub” and how to spot it. There has to be an atmosphere that feels like you’re in someone’s living room, there needs to be good beer, it shouldn’t be a chain, and it needs low lighting, plenty of seating, good food, some outdoor space in case it’s ever nice out, and it shouldn’t be filled with drunk wankers or a TV playing football. Well, maybe that’s just my version of a good pub.

4. I now say sorry for things that aren’t my fault.

Whenever someone bumps into me in a crowd, I’m the one who says ‘sorry’ as if I just bumped into them. But strangely, I don’t say ‘excuse me’ anymore. That phrase isn’t used in England and has gradually disappeared from my vocabulary.

5. I’m constantly spelling things the British way, but my autocorrect is set to American.

After working several office jobs in London, it’s become second nature to spell words with double l’s, extra u’s, and s’s instead of z’s. And after a couple near scheduling disasters, I’m now fluent in telling “Military time” — 16:00 makes me think 6pm not 4pm. But I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve made all these conversions to my American friends, so when I’m emailing and texting friends back in the US I automatically correct my time and spelling back to “American.”

6. I’ve come to know all the rules of pub culture.

Fridays mean going for a pint in London, which is code for several. I have adapted to spending my Friday evenings at one of the many “good pubs” and sometimes the not good pubs — often standing outside in the drizzle, squished up against strangers, as people are corralled within a few feet of the sidewalk behind a rope barrier so the pub doesn’t get a fine for drunk people blocking the walkway. I’ve gotten used to buying beers in rounds — which accounts for why there’s never just one because you have to pay for your round and get your money’s worth drinking others. And several beers and a couple bags of crisps have become an acceptable dinner. I’ve even come to like British Ale, un-carbonated and warm beer. I’m no longer surprised by pubs closing at 11 pm and now I even know a few that actually stay open until 1 am.

7. I can finally make a good cuppa.

I was inaugurated into the importance of tea through making tea rounds at work, similar to beer rounds at the pub, asking my colleagues if they’d like a drink. Then I’d make a tray of five or six cups, each to a specific order. English Breakfast or Earl Grey, weak or strong, tea bag in or out, milk, sugar? After being in England for only a few months I made tea for some English visitors at my flat and was praised by a very surprised Brit on how good of a ‘cuppa’ I made, for being an American.

8. I’ve learned to automatically stay to the left.

Natural instincts are hard to change, but mine have been altered from the right to the left. After almost getting run over a few times in my first couple of weeks, I now look left whenever I cross the street. And when I go back to the US my instincts are so completely confused that I have to chant, “Stay to the right, stay to the right” to myself as I drive.

9. I always expect the weather to be bad.

I spent a couple years being constantly optimistic that the weather in London would improve, and I was miserable on a daily basis. Now, I just expect it to be horrible and on the rare occasion that it’s not, I’m delighted. And I’m not the only one who’s turned pessimistic — even the online weather reports say ‘partly cloudy’ instead of ‘partly sunny.’

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