US vs UK: Our English Is Not The Same

us vs uk

We both speak English, but is it the same?


My first trip to the UK and Ireland was in August 2016. (The UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales, & Northern Ireland.)


I had only been to Europe once before and that was Paris in 2010 (with cruise ship Dan).


On this trip in 2016, my friend Meera and I visited all English speaking countries, so I wasn’t concerned about a language barrier.


It’s so interesting to me that even though we all speak “English” there are so many fascinating differences.


The first sign that something was amiss is when I was sitting on the plane. It was a Virgin Atlantic flight through Delta.


Most of the flight crew were English (as in from England…or the UK I guess).


One of the flight attendants was walking around after the meal, asking everyone this question.  I was flying alone on my first big trip in years…I was having some travel anxiety. When I couldn’t figure out what she was saying I started panicking a little. She was almost to me.  I was going to have to look like an idiot, and say, “What?”  But then I figured it out! RUBBISH. She was saying rubbish…which meant garbage…which made sense because we had just finished eating. Whew!



Hmmm. This might not be as “easy” as I had assumed it would be.




The thing I love the most about travel is meeting and connecting with different people. I love discovering all of these little things that you never knew you had in common and all of the things that you never knew were different.



We live in a world where we take so much for granted.  We assume that everyone else does life like we do.  Or many it’s just that we don’t give it much thought on a day to day basis.  We are too absorbed in our own lives.


Everyone else does NOT live like we do, and I love it.  I want to know about your world.  It’s magical to me learning about different ways of life, different ways of talking, and different ways of looking at the world.


You just have to be brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone to go an experience it. I promise it’ll be worth it…every time.




One of the biggest surprises was that they do not use the same words as we do for many things, AND sometimes the same words do not mean the same thing.


The movie, The Holiday (read it in a British accent please), should have been a big clue. But then again, why would it?  The movie takes place over the Christmas HOLIDAY, so in America, I assume holiday = time of special celebration.  Why would I read into it any more than that?  Well because in the UK, holiday means vacation.  “Are you having a good holiday miss?”


Holiday = Vacation


When you’re in the UK, you must order fish and chips. It’s an ABSOLUTE MUST, but I remember thinking…why would I want chips with my fried fish? Why CHIPS THOUGH?!?!! Well, chips in the UK are French Fries in the US.


Chips are fries and crisps are chips. Are you confused yet? Haha


Chips = Fries

Crisps = Chips


To add to the confusion, a biscuit is a cookie.


Biscuit = Cookie


If you say “pants” in the UK, as in “I’d like to change my pants first.” You are really saying, “I’d like to change my underwear first.” Now that can lead to some awkward situations…


Pants are underwear and trousers are pants.


Pants = Underwear

Trousers = Pants

Jumper = Sweater


A flat is an apartment, as in “Princess Diana shared a flat with my mum…” (Real conversation I had with someone and a true story!)


Flat = Apartment


You never say, “Get in the line.” or “The line is so long.” It’s called a queue. (Pronounce it like you’d say the letter “Q.”


Queue = Line


You also never say, “Carry out.” You say, “Takeaway.”

“I would like a box for takeaway please.”

Sometimes there is an extra charge for dining in vs “takeaway.” I feel like that is more common at coffee shops and places where you grab a quick bite…just so you know though.


Takeaway = Carry Out


Other food related words:

Courgette = Zucchini

Aubergine = Eggplant

Coriander = Cilantro



Lift = Elevator

Europe is old. Many places do not have “lifts.” If they do, expect them to be small.

This is one of the reasons why it’s better to pack light and try to do only a carry-on type bag. Cobblestone streets, small lifts, narrow and steep staircases…you catch my drift.



Never say bathroom or restroom. (I mean if you do, some kind person will probably know what you’re talking about.) There are a lot of different names for restroom in the UK and in Europe in general.


I’ll never forget when I was in the train station in Dublin (I had been in Europe for almost two weeks at this point, so I really should have known better).  We just ate at Super Mac’s (which is pretty delish by the way).  We were catching the train to Galway in a few, but I wanted to use the bathroom first.


I left Super Mac’s and was wandering around looking for the little sign hanging from the ceiling with the man and the woman symbol for bathroom.  I COULDN’T FIND IT.  I was starting to panic again.  How could I not find the bathroom?!?!?! This was pretty basic! Then finally I saw a small sign in the corner for WC, and it hit me.  WC = WASH CLOSET = BATHROOM.  Ah Ha!


The toilets, the loo, wash closet, etc…all names for the restroom.


Also, most restrooms in Europe are WAY nicer. The stall doors don’t have those awkward gaps on the sides and the bottom where people can see through. What is up with that in the USA anyway? We can do better.


The UK uses the pound (GBP or British pound sterling). They never switched to the Euro when joining the EU, and now Brexit so…

Slang for the GBP is “quid”

I really don’t know why. It’s puzzling to me.


Gas = Petrol

They don’t have “gas stations.” It’s “petrol.”


A “mate” is a friend, but a “lad” is one of the boys.

A lad is a more special than a mate.

At least that’s my understanding.

Seems to be a guy thing.


Oi! = an expression of surprise


Session = is like when you have a great time with a group of friends. “We had a good pub sesh.”


They refer to high school as college (I think?).

So college/university is just University. Well, actually, they just say “uni.”

So be careful about how you use those words. In the US, we pretty much use college and university interchangeably, but they mean two different things in the UK.


Another word I learned was “whinge,” “whingy,” or “whinging.” It means always complaining…like cry baby. We met this group of English guys at the Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. They all had nicknames for each other. One of them was nicknamed “Whingy,” and I really struggled with that.


This next one is Irish, but it is worthy of mentioning. The word is “craic.” It is pronounced like “crack,” so it’s a little shocking the first time you hear it.


I was talking with someone who is Irish (he is actually a friend I made in Lisbon). He owns a little place called Sama Sama with his wife Sofia. I was a regular at their shop during my month in Lisbon. I went down there one afternoon, and Sofia and Malta were telling me all about how I just missed the craziest thing! There were these guys who had been sleeping in a truck outside the shop. (The shop is right off of Pink Street, which turns into a big party every night.) The guys all woke up, were still drunk, came in for crepes, and the whole thing turned into a big party. Malta said something like, “We just had the best craic.” Read more about Lisbon HERE.


I think my mouth must have dropped open, and I stared at him for a minute. I didn’t think that they had actually just smoked some crack, but I was a little stunned. Then he was like, “Oh! It’s an Irish word. It means like a good time, entertainment, a riot, etc.”


In England, they say Nike and Adidas differently than we do as well.

Nike rhymes with bike. Try it. Say bike with an N instead of a B.

Also, we say Adidas like Uh-Dee-Dis. They pronounce it like Ah-Dee-Das. I don’t know if that’s making any sense, but it really threw me the first time I heard it. This guy from England was trying to tell me that he worked for Ah-Dee-Das, and I must have said, “What???” 50 million times. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.



Other Notable Differences


Where are the electrical outlets?

Seriously, you might want to take a power strip and/or an extension cord with you when you travel. I have notice a severe lack of electrical outlets. You’ll also need an outlet adapter too because their plugs are shaped differently than ours. The voltage is different too, but don’t waste your time with a converter. Read this post for more info on International Travel (to Europe).

Also, electrical outlets and mirrors don’t always coincide. So bring that extension cord and bring a little hand held mirror that you can prop up too.


Heated towel racks? Yes please. Why is this not a common thing in the US?


Why do the pubs close so early? But why though? The pubs are these magical places with live music and crowds and beer. Everyone is just singing along and having a great time. Why do they close at 11?


At the pubs, they love singing along to Country Roads, Wagon Wheel, and Sweet Home Alabama…also puzzling to me. (Everyone knows ALL of the words too.)


While we’re on the subject of the US not having pubs like they do in the UK and Ireland…why do we not have afternoon tea in the US with clotted cream as well? (Do a champagne afternoon tea if you’re ever in London!)


The refrigerators in Europe are small and the washers and dryers are usually a two-in-one combo. Places in Europe are small. So the appliances are designed to save space too.


Your coins are confusing!


Steep, steep, narrow staircases. That’s all I have to say about that.


Celsius & Fahrenheit

We met some lads on vacation from England when we were in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Fringe Festival. (I mentioned these guys earlier in this post.)  They asked us something along the lines of, “Why on earth would you take your holiday here when it is usually always so cold and rainy?!?!”


I responded with, “I know, right!?!  Meera is always convincing me to do these trips on my summer vacation, and we go to places where it is colder.  Back home it’s 90 degrees right now!”


Then they stared at me.  What did I say?  Finally one of them laughs and says, “You’re talking about Fahrenheit because if it was 90 degrees Celsius, then we’d all be burned up dead.”


Another one may have laughed and said, “That’s hotter than the f___ sun!!!”


(I also feel like they swear a lot [and they use the c word more than we do in the US], but it sounds so nice when they do it.)


So just remember, they use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit and they use kilometers instead of miles. Metrics…ugh.


(Honestly, these differences are half the fun though. I almost feel bad spoiling them for you ahead of time. Chances are you’ll forget though.)


Your school confuses me. Why don’t you know what social studies is?  Why does it go by year instead of grade?  I thought that was just a special Harry Potter/Hogwarts thing.  How do the years work? Primary, Secondary, College, Uni, WHAT??? I want to go to school in the UK (in a castle please).


English people put x’s at the end of the text messages.

I once spent a (bored) summer afternoon googling the meaning of the x. Let me tell you, it’s some complicated stuff. Like a different number of x’s mean different things. One x is just friendly while two or more xx’s can be more flirtatious. It also depends on if any of the x’s are capitalized because that means the person put in more effort to capitalize them, but if the first x is capitalized then that doesn’t mean anything because the phone will automatically capitalize it if it comes after a period…SHEESH!

Although, I kind of secretly wish that we did this in America.  When you’re wondering, is he flirting?  Are we friends or more than friends?  You can test the waters with some x’s and see what you get back!  It might save a lot of time and hurt feelings.



They have also been way ahead of us on the whole credit card, contactless card thing. It’s so much easier and nicer to pay with a card in Europe than it is here. They just bring the little machine right to you. Always pay in the local currency (don’t be tempted to select the USD option). It’s better to let your credit card company do the conversion. You can add a tip right on the little machine (although tipping is different depending on where you are in Europe) too. If you’re from the US, then you usually do have to sign the receipt, but Europeans don’t.

So much better!



The last time I was in London in November, the people we were hanging out with (English and Scottish) bought everyone tequila shots. They were like, “C’mon! Americans love to drink!” I thought it was funny because I was like, “No, you guys are the ones who love to drink!”


Anyway, that’s all I have for now. I’m sure there is a lot that I forgot. If you are from the UK, I would love to know your thoughts on this as well and all of the things that Americans do that make you scratch your head.


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US vs UK_ Our English Is Not The Same



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