Here are a few seemingly innocuous habits that could get you into trouble when you move from the UK to Chicago. You may not even know you do them…
1. Saying sorry
Innocent as the word may seem, “sorry” implies apology and an apology implies fault and an admittance of guilt! Perhaps that’s why you very rarely hear an American utter it. “Sorry” is one of the reasons that some Americans view the Brits as insincere. I mean are you really sorry when you say it? Or are you just saying it? Worse still, in certain situations you could be putting yourself at risk of being sued (for example never say sorry at the site of a car accident).
Instead: learn to say “excuse me” like Americans do. Practise the next time you bump into someone by accident. Fight your instinct.
2. Doing everything your doctor tells you
Thanks to our amazing NHS, Brits are hardwired to trust doctors and also to be grateful for any and all medical treatment they are offered (er, which sometimes isn’t much!). Here in America, if you do everything your doctor suggests, especially when it comes to diagnostic tests, you WILL end up with a HUGE medical bill. I’ve lost count of the number of British Expat friends who have been caught out by this!! Doctors will offer you EVERYTHING from an MRI to every bloodtest available and if you jump at the chance to get them, it can cost THOUSANDS. You are in charge of making decisions when it comes to your health and checking whether your treatment is covered by your healthcare insurance.
Instead: learn to ask “WHY?”. Why do I need this test? Why are you suggesting this medication vs another route? Why is this the best course of action?
3. Passive aggressiveness
Part of the reason I believe Americans are considered “rude” is that they ask for what they want and are happy to flag up any problems. Brits on the other hand are afraid of “making a fuss” or “seeming rude”. For example, you’re in a restaurant and your food arrives freezing cold or isn’t what you ordered. An American would be happy to send it back or ask the waiter to correct the order. A Brit would eat it anyway, leave the restaurant, then complain to all their friends. Ask yourself which is ruder, being honest about the situation and giving the service provider an opportunity to redeem themselves or lying to them?
Instead: learn to be honest about what you are not happy about. Give service providers the chance to rectify the situation.
4. Eating everything on your plate
We’ve all been taught that it’s polite to finish everything on your plate. Do this in America and you will soon be the size of a house! Portion sizes are enormous. You are never expected to eat it all. In fact, a lot of restaurants will assume you will want to “box up” your left overs and take them home to eat the next day. They even advertise this!
Instead: learn to look at your plate and decide how much of it you are going to actually eat before you tuck in.
The Midwest isn’t the most god-fearing State in America, but it is still exceptionally conservative. Case in point, when the UK version of The Inbewteeners aired on US TV they bleeped out the “oh my gods” and the “Jesus Christs” and actually left in all the “bollocks” and “wankers”. In polite company and especially in the work place, taking the Lord’s name in vain will likely make people as uncomfortable as dropping the F bomb. You will be judged if you use it whereas in the UK it’s use goes largely unnoticed.
Instead: learn to be more aware of when you blaspheme. Learn to say “gosh” or “goodness” instead of “God” or “jeepers” instead of “Jesus” etc.
Main Image credit: Wikicommons Bill Branson (Photographer) National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, ID 2189