5 Ways to Spot an American Traveling in the UK and Ireland
When I was in my twenties, I spent a lot of time traveling through the UK and Ireland. I did it all: spent loads of money I didn’t have in the Knightsbridge shops; negotiated the purchase of terrible weed in back alleys near Piccadilly Circus; clubbed and pub-crawled my way through Sheffield; got an overpriced body piercing in Edinburgh that I came to regret; and lived for three months in a cramped flat overlooking a Dublin junkyard.
During this extensive tour of the British Isles, I developed something of a Spidey-sense about my fellow Americans. It got so that I could identify them almost immediately, even before hearing them speak. It was easy once I realized what to look for—so here’s what to look for:
- Americans go out of their way to tip taxi drivers, bartenders, hotel porters, and wait staff. Even if a traveler from the U.S. has done prior research, and knows that tipping in the UK and Ireland can be awkward at best and “HI! I’M A CLUELESS AMERICAN” at worst, the practice is nevertheless an extremely hard one to break. Tipping is a deeply-engrained social construct in the United States, so it’s harder than you might think for an American to not instinctively hand over that extra 20%. (And it’s easier than you might think for a shady mini-cab driver to take it.)
- Americans switch their eating utensils from hand to hand. At the pub enjoying a full English after a hazy night of Vodka-and-Red-Bull-fueled shenanigans? You’ll be able to pick the Americans out of the crowd because of the totally inefficient way we cut our food. While Europeans keep their forks in their left hands and their knives in their right hands throughout the entire meal, here’s how I dig into my black pudding:
- I hold my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right.
- I use the fork to anchor food with my left hand, then I cut with my right.
- Then I place my knife on the edge of the plate.
- Now, listen up, because this next part is key: I transfer my fork over to my right hand.
- Only then will I pick up the food with my fork, and eat it.
- But wait! Is that another piece of food I need to cut? Better switch my fork back into my left hand again!
And so the cycle continues. This is why most Americans set their relationship status with eating utensils to “It’s Complicated” on Facebook.
- Americans are the ones trying to order iced tea. Most Americans don’t realize that iced tea is NOT A THING in the UK and Ireland. If you’re ever looking for a good laugh, just watch one of us attempt to order it in a British or Irish establishment. Halfway through the word “iced,” the waiter’s eyes will glaze over, he’ll pretend to have misheard the request, and the next thing you know, a PROPER cup of hot tea will be sent out to the table instead.
My suggestion for an American traveler in search of iced tea in the British Isles: ask for a cup of tea with a glass of ice on the side, then suck it up and make it yourself.
- Americans aren’t prepared for pubs to close early. Even we Americans realise that we’re spoiled when it comes to convenience. Our grocery stores, restaurants, and bars stay open very late—if not twenty-four hours a day—and the fact is, we’ve gotten accustomed to that over time. So, if you truly want to spot an American? Go down to your local, and when the bartender announces last call at 11 PM, just take a quick peek around the place. Do you see a guy staring in puzzled disbelief at his watch, tapping its face, and holding it up to his ear to see if everything’s working correctly? If so, then congratulations! You’ve discovered an American!
- They pretend to be Canadian. Americans do this. I’ve done it. Because sometimes there are just situations where it’s uncomfortable or undesirable to be an American overseas. Once, in October 2001, I was loudly chastised in a Dublin pub for contributing to a recent recession in the Irish economy: “Tourism is down because you Americans aren’t flying anymore. Not traveling, not spending money. You know. Because of 9/11?”
I chose not to argue with the fellow, who was belligerent, very vocal, and a little the worse for wear from drinking. Instead, I just let a bland smile cross my face and told him I was from Toronto.
So there you have it! Five ingenious and 100%* foolproof ways to identify an American in the UK and the British Isles. Have fun with this new knowledge! Turn it into a party game! Whoever can suss out the most people from the States wins a Miller Lite and a temporary tattoo of a mustachioed cowboy waving the American flag.
*Closer to 30%.
(Note from The Editor: Sarah del Rio is the Deputy Editor of women’s humour site In the Powder Room. She is also a freelance writer and editor, whose award-winning humour blog est. 1975 brings levity and perspective to the ladies of Generation X. For more from Sarah, you can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter or check out more about her here on her Authors Page.)