10 weirdly useful things every Brit abroad should know
Us Brits have a bit of a reputation when we venture abroad. Plus we get grilled on the strangest things… from why we drink so much tea to the the correct pronunciation of ‘leviosa’, and what on earth is a cheeky Nando’s? It gets a little frustrating just how many stereotypes are completely inaccurate.
*sips tea* it’s lɛviːoʊ’sɑː by the way…
This year, for the first time I travelled with a group of mainly Australians and some Americans on a group tour. This made me realise that our travel styles are completely different; and that unbeknownst to me I actually DO have an accent.
So, to all my fellow Brits abroad, here are 10 useful things to know when venturing from Her Majesty’s Kingdom…
1. Look both ways before you cross the street… and then check again.
Not only does J-walking not exist in rural or city living in England, no one gives a codswallop when and where you cross the street. We are far too polite to beep unless absolutely necessary and our streets are so small it’s only a short journey. However, my biggest problem was not this, but not knowing which direction the cars were coming. The UK (and Australia) are two of only a handful of countries that drive on the left-hand side of the street. We do this because of our barbaric history and the need to carry a sword on our right – so really, we have the more logical side of the road. This logic did not prevent near-death experiences when I’ve been looking the completely wrong way and trying to illegally j-walk. So if in doubt, I practice patience and find a crossing.
2. Forget being overly polite
The first word I learn in another language is ‘sorry’. This is probably because I use it in almost every sentence while away (or if I’m being really honest, in daily life). This stereotype of being overly polite, for me, is entirely accurate. When I’m at a bar, I like to do one of my favourite things – queue – and stand patiently looking at the person behind the bar until they ask for my order.
This, as one of my American friends kindly pointed out, is considered hilarious behaviour. I try my best to be polite and respectful, especially when I don’t know cultures and traditions, but when you’ve been stood for 30 minutes at an almost empty bar and haven’t been served, it’s time to break tradition. Once, I waited at an open bar on a boat for 30 minutes before my American mate asked me what I wanted and ordered for me. My drink order was in my hand in the next 30 seconds. Moral of the story… find a good drinking buddy, and don’t apologise as much!
3. Bring your own tea!
I am not the sort of person who goes abroad and looks for fish and chips. I love trying all sorts of local food and drink, which most of the time is a hell of a lot nicer than the bland stuff we get at home. However, there is one drink, the holy grail, that is not just about hydration. A good cup of British brew is often necessary to one’s day (I’m on my 5th cup as I type this) and as much as I’ve tried, it’s virtually impossible to recreate abroad. I tried asking for black tea with milk and it came with hot milk and a lemon?! I was once made a tea cappuccino. My best advice is to always carry a tea bag… for emergencies.
4. You CAN use public transport everywhere (despite what the locals think)
The fact that I don’t have a driving license and have never driven comes at a great shock to some people. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly common thing in Britain, but several of my mates don’t own a car, especially in cities. I was meeting a friend in LA and was confused by the amount of times she sent me detailed instructions on how to get to her property, once she found out I was only using public transport.
I typed in the address found the bus and metro I needed to get and when I arrived she said I had used more modes of public transport over the last few days than most of her friends in Santa Monica. In England, if I want to go anywhere it’s second-nature to just jump on the next train or bus. I’ve mastered the Underground map in London and once you’ve done that it’s pretty much the same in every country. So, when I was in a Costa Rica and had to do a four-hour-three-bus journey up a mountain, I wasn’t worried. All I had to do was try and do the correct pronunciation of the place names or have them written down. NO FEAR. I also never underestimate the power of a good map app!
5. Explain where you’re from using the magic of football
The easiest way to describe where you live in England internationally is the nearest football (soccer) team. Since Leicester won the 15/16 Premiership League with 5000-1 odds, it has put us on the map. Before I would have to say things like ‘north of London’ or ‘sort of near Birmingham’. But now I can say Leicester, as in Leicester City football club. A Cuban taxi driver I met in Miami knows exactly where I come from. It’s the magic of the game.
Fun fact: Leicester is pronounced LES-TAH
6. People find our obsession with weather… strange
As a Brit abroad, I always get people saying, “I’d love to visit London, but isn’t it cold?” All Brits love to talk about the weather and the answer is: YES. Britain is bloody freezing. Even in summer our weather doesn’t know what it’s doing. That is why when there’s a glimpse of sunshine, British people run outside to set up a friendly game of beanbag rounders or dig out the lollies from the back of the fridge.
But that’s not to say we aren’t prepared when we go on a hot holiday. In fact, I don’t think we’re programmed to cope when the heat REALLY dials up. My friends on the trip were confused as I started to unpack sun screen with factor 50, 30, 20, 15, 10, 8 and 6…
7. Our regional accents are our party trick!
Try saying ‘space ghetto’ in an American accent… you can now say ‘spice girl’ in Scottish. Ever wondered why we Brits can easily mimic the way you speak? That’s because our country has about a hundred regional accents. From the farmers in Brizzle to the phlegming Scousers – no two accents are quite the same. Trying to do other people’s accents is deeply rooted in our comedy and our culture of understanding, and it’s fun to compare with the Aussies and Americans in particular.
8. Not everyone will understand your sarcasm though…
While we’re on the traditions of comedy in the UK, we must touch upon the subject of dry, British humour. You can describe our humour with the three S’s: satire, self-deprecation and sarcasm. We love to poke fun and laugh at ourselves, but our sarcasm comes with a (sometimes confusing) dead pan delivery. I found that I accidentally offended someone by guessing they were 40 when he was clearly in his twenties – hilarious to me but easily misunderstood. So, as a Brit abroad, if in doubt go easy on the sarcasm… or don’t.
9. People drink less than us…
I love to drink. I love wine. I love whiskey. It’s legal in the UK to have a glass of something with your meal at 16 and then I guess it’s all downhill from there. My last trip I drank significantly less (not total sobriety, don’t be daft) than I would at home because of two reasons. ONE: I have just reached the age of the hangover, and it’s not pretty. TWO: I can always drink more than everyone around me. While I can handle several drinks and a couple of tequila shots and still be sober, most non-Brits are on the floor from a couple of vodka Red Bulls. My suggestion? Go easy when you’re hanging out with Americans and Australians – your liver will thank you too.
10. Oh and Brexit makes us look BAD
When I was in Florence and I bought my ticket to the Academia, I was charged the wrong price. When I went back, I asked for the 18-25 EU price, and the woman said: “not for very much longer, you chose to leave.” Something that I know is inevitable when travelling is that someone will make assumptions or ask about Brexit. Best to remind them that the reality is that only 64% of young voters turned out for the referendum and 70% of us voted remain.