Some funny experiences due to the differences between Commonwealth and American culture

Getting knocked up

There are those phrases that are the same but have totally different meanings resulting in severe misunderstandings. Take for instance the phrase "knock up". In the USA this means get a girl pregnant while in the UK it means knock on someone's door! Imagine someone from the UK in America at a conference. On meeting in a hotel lobby for breakfast, an American asks the Englishman if a fellow female delegate had come down for breakfast yet. It would be quite natural for the Englishman to reply: "No, but I did knock her up this morning!" HEHEHE!!!

Sexual misunderstandings

Another example is the slang word "fag". In the Commonwealth, a fag is slang for a cigarette, while in the USA the same word is slang for a gay man!

The word "rubber" means an eraser in the Commonwealth but refers to a condom in the USA... so an English student in an American college would quite naturally lean over to an American student and ask to borrow their rubber! HAH!

For Australians, they find it amusing when Americans say they are rooting for them - root in Australian means to have sex!

And when you get pissed...

Much the same applies to the word "pissed". In America this means angry while in the Commonwealth pissed means drunk. I recall the occasion when my boss at that time (who was from Britain) and I (then still from South Africa) were in the US on business and were taken out one evening by a junior associate from the local US office. Having way too much to drink, in the cab returning to our hotel, my boss repeatedly announced that he was "Soooo pissed". This elicited much alarm from our American associate who kept on asking, "Why, what's wrong"? To which my boss equally misunderstood and responded, "There's nothing wrong with being pissed." And the response to that, of course: "Oh, I agree there's nothing wrong with it, but why are you so pissed?" And so it went on, and on, until finally, having gotten over my fits of laughter, I explained to them that they had been talking cross purposes for the entire cab ride!

What of course makes this even more complicated is the English saying: "Taking the piss out of someone". This bears no resemblance at all to getting drunk, nor getting angry, nor even urinating!. This simply means making fun of someone!

Bad directions

Then there was the time another boss (a Texan this time) was coming to visit me in San Francisco, recently after I moved to the USA. On asking for directions from the airport I told him to take highway 80. Of course, I pronounced this the English way: Eigh-TEE, instead of the American way: Eigh-DEE (see my section on Pronunciation). Being American, he misunderstood my "eighty" to be "AT" and spent 2 hours totally lost looking for some non-existent road called Highway AT. Well, he was expecting 80 to sound like Eigh-DEE not Eigh-TEE, so who could blame him?

About food

Certain remote areas in the USA have never heard an English accent before, rendering British English into what seems to them like a foreign language. Can I ever forget the morning I was traveling through Mena, Arkansas, and stopped to order lunch from a convenience store. After repeating that I wanted a simple hamburger THREE  times without success (bringing the the words "blank look" a whole new meaning), my wife finally came to my rescue and "translated" my order into American English! How different really does the word "hamburger" sound between an American and an English accent? Apparently, a lot!

Ever wondered why Wendy's Hamburgers never took off in Britain? Well, who would want to order "Biggie Fries" when a biggie is what a child calls his poo! Another meaning for Biggie in Britain is of course an erection! - just gets better doesn't it?

Contributions from visitors to this website

From Nikki Canales: I do have a funny story from a friend of mine who traveled from the US to the UK. When she got off the plane, she stepped in some mud and got her jeans dirty. When she met the people she was staying with, she said "I apologize.. my pants are dirty." They gave her a funny look. Later, she found out "pants" is actually "trousers" in the UK and they mistakenly thought she was talking about her underpants or "knickers."

From Phil Andrews: Suspenders in the UK are for holding up ladies stockings, careful how you use the word. A guy who said "I am wearing red suspenders" would get an odd look...

From Sarah: I am British living with my US fiancé and my two British children in America. It was funny when messing around one day my US fiancé told my 5yr old daughter he was going to spank her fanny! My daughter and I looked in shock and said: "WHAT?!!" He then quickly explained that a fanny is a bum - we all sighed and giggled.

From Adam: When I first arrived in the US from Britain I was sitting in a bar with some new American friends; I choked on my drink when I heard one of the girls announce that she had been riding her bicycle too much that day and now her "fanny really hurt"!

From Nate: The eating section reminded me of a date I went on in London with an British girl. We went to a nice restaurant where I think I had a steak and chips. Never in my life had I seen someone eat fries with a knife and fork, so as I was eating, I noticed my date doing this, I stopped and asked what she was doing. Needless to say, I ate my fries with a knife and fork that day and for the rest of my stay in Britain.

From Daniel: So I (an American) was playing Frisbee with a British girl.  I threw it to her and while trying to catch it she broke a nail.  She was whining about it so I told her, "Suck it up!"  To us this means just deal with the pain and continue.  To them it has a bad sexual meaning.  Embarrassing!

From Claire: My friend visited England from Florida and we went to a theme park. We went on the Water Chute ride. When we got off, my American friend announced at the top of her voice " fanny is all wet". Imagine my embarrassment when 100 people looked at us in disgust and shoo'd their children away!

From Helly: I visited England with my mom (she was born and raised in England) and my cousins took me out shopping. We went into a purse/bag shop and one of my cousins (male) held up a 'fanny bag' and said I should get one to hold my change from Car Boots. Well, we weren't standing close, so I said sorta loudly "I already brought a 'fanny bag'. He looked totally shocked and his eyes scanned the store because I was being glared at. He said "What!" and quickly came to me telling me never to say that. We left the store (fanny bagless) and he explained. Oh boy! The rest of my stay was a constant fanny/bum bag joke.

From Katrina: While my family and I (Americans) were vacationing in the UK, we definately ran into some language barriers. It was pretty comical when my Dad asked for directions to the "Restrooms" in a London Department store, and the man kept telling us where there were lounges and seating "places we could rest". I think that went on for about five minutes, until I finally cut in and asked for directions to the W.C. Then I ran into a little bit of trouble myself, when I entered into a discussion with the bell hop. He asked me "How did you find Warwick Castle", I thought the question a little odd, but, none the less, I answered "We used a map in combination with the signs." He gave me a strange look and I continued to give him a strange look, and then it sunk in, "Oh, that meant what did I think of Warwick castle." My Mother and Sister still haven't let me live down that bit of foolishness.

From Amber: A friend from England came to visit me in Los Angeles. On our way to the car we got in an elevator. There were two rough looking guys in there already and one was smoking. My British friend gasped in amazment and said "Are you allowed to smoke a fag in there?" the two rough guys looked really confused and I burst into laughter. (To smoke someone means to kill them with a gun) Anyway we took the next elevator.

From David: While at University in England I made friends with an American girl. She had spent the day horse riding and that evening we met in the student bar. As typical reserved English folk, everyone would often go quiet as the 'American Girl' came into the bar. I immediately asked how she was, her loud reply was "Well, I've got a sore fanny as I've been riding a horse all day!" I need not tell you the reaction this had on the already silent group sitting in the bar.

From Mirjam: I went to Australia last year. I was travelling with a Canadian friend. In Australia they call sandals "thongs". We came to a pub where it said on the door: No thongs allowed. My Canadian friend was very surprised, she didn't understand how they could know what underwear the people are wearing :-).

From Wendy: My other American friend Renee was driving from the airport to her boyfriend's house in a hired car. A guy was driving really close behind her, and when she got to her boyfriend's house she said the guy was 'totally riding my fanny!' Riding means having sex, and fanny is female sex organ.

From Mike: I (a Yank) was working in England. I took frequent business trips to the US with British colleagues. Once one of them said he had never driven on the "wrong" side of the road and asked if he could try it. All was well until we were driving about 30 MPH down a suburban road and passed a sign that said "Pavement ends 100 feet". Before I had time to explain that this had nothing to do with the sidewalk and maybe he should slow down, we were on the dirt and skidding all over the road. Fortunately we came to rest safely and had a great story to share with our coworkers.

From Misty: In 1972 I moved from Florida to Hong Kong. As Thanksgiving was approaching I decided to invite my new friends for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I was in the Provisioner's looking for mince meat for pies. Every time I asked where this was located in the store I was directed to the meat counter. Finally, in frustration, I called a British friend. She told me to ask for "fruit chutney". Walla! I was able to bake my Mince Meat Pies.

From Elizabeth: When I was 19 (I'm a American female), I worked as a secretary in London for a summer. One day I was typing away, and a fellow waiting for my boss came up and asked "Excuse me, do you have a rubber." Needless to say, my jaw dropped a foot, but I choked out "Sorry, I'm not carrying one today." A couple minutes later, it dawned on me what he wanted. As I handed it to him, I said "a rubber means something slightly different in America". I've never seen someone turn so red so fast.

From Bob: While serving in the Canadian Army in Germany I wound up in the hospital beside a young man from one of the British army units. One day he asked me how are the birds in Canada With a big smile I told him that at hunting time You couldn't see the sky for the ducks No No he said Birds and kept repeating Bird Birds Looking at like some crazy man. It was explained to me that birds in England are women.

From Christine: I am a Californian teenager, and a couple years ago my family traveled to London. We went out to lunch with some of our English friends, and after the satisfying meal, my dad asked me how the meal was. I exclaimed "It was delicious, I'm stuffed!". This elicited a laugh from our English friend, and I was told not to say this again. In American, "I'm stuffed" means I'm very full (of food). Apparently in English it is a nasty term for being pregnant.

From Radan: An American mother and her baby were on a visit in Britain. In a nursery mother asked another one "Where can I have my nipples boiled?". Stunning silence while they realised her "nipples" are for "teat" in British English.

From Stephanie - When I was little, my family and I travelled to London...I probably was about 10 years old. While visiting, we went out to dinner with a friend of ours from England. I recall that I ordered some sort of pasta, but that pasta didn't come with any sauce on it. And so, I had asked for marinara sauce. The waiter had no idea what I said. So I tried again, reluctantly. Tomato sauce? I guess I literally got what I wanted. A few minutes later he brought back a little cup--of ketchup. Needless to say, I was ten and I didn't object to the use of ketchup on my pasta.....but nothing can make me forget that vocabulary lesson.

From Brian: I am an American. Last year a friend of mine from England came over to visit for a few weeks. We were in a Wal-Mart shopping center and he had to use the bathroom. He went up to one of the employees and asked "Where's the loo?". The man said "If you're looking for someone, I can page them for you on the intercom. What's Lou's last name?" I thought that was hilarious!

From David: I'm an American living in England. In the first week or two after I arrived, I told some friends that I was going outside for a quick puff or two (meaning to smoke at least part of a cigarette)...they responded by uncomfortably giggling and saying "well mate, whatever suits your fancy!"... In British slang, a "puff" is a homosexual.

From Rowan: The funny story is that when I mentioned to an American friend that my form tutor at school wore horrible jumpers, he asked whilst laughing if he was a cross dresser! Turns out a jumper can mean a dress in the US whilst in Britain it means a long sleeved top similar to a pullover in America.

From Tom: I was visiting my future wife in London and going to meet her family a few days later. I read the newspapers to try to be conversational with her family. While waiting in line outside the Tower of London, someone had spray painted “Arsenal Wankers” on the wall.

I said (a bit too loudly) “Honey, the “Wankers” ! They are playing in the FA Cup Final this weekend!”

She was not happy but her mum loved it and made me an “Arsenal Wanker” t-shirt.

From James: My brother, an American and avid motorcyclist was studying in London and needed a new pair of protective leather clothing. So he walked into a motorcycle shop and asked the workers what kind of leather pants they sold. He said they both burst out laughing, and said they didn't carry leather pants. How could a bike shop not carry protective leather pants? Probably because pants are underwear in England. He was pretty embarrassed.

If you know of any other funny stories, please e-mail me and I will add them!


If you know of any words or differences I have missed please submit them to me here

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