"Sure – I’ll relocate. After all they speak the same language don’t they? How different can it be?”
If you’re an American in the UK, you’ll know by now. If you’re an American about to make the leap, take note. Or “Nota Bene”, as the Brits love to say.
Hopefully, one of the first things you’ll come across are invitations and, as with most things, there are a hundred and one informal “rules”, which also means a hundred and one ways to put your foot in your mouth or cause offence.
Unless otherwise stated, social invitations are for adults only so don’t drag your kids along even if you can’t find a babysitter. Phoning up and telling the host that you’re struggling for a babysitter will result in a “Never mind, another time perhaps”, rather than the “Oh, just bring them along” that you might get in the States. Asking outright if you can bring them will result in a polite, but firm “no”. Most Brits don’t socialize with their children in the evening, and they won’t want yours along either.
Your invitation to a dinner might be phrased as, “seven thirty for eight” or “eight for eight thirty”, which means that you can turn up any time within this half hour. The plan is to sit down to dinner at the end of that duration and you should not wander in late.
When declining an invitation Americans, I have noticed, simply say they have “other plans”, or they “can’t make it”. I’m afraid this won’t wash in the UK as Brits are genetically coded to give the why’s and wherefore’s. You’ll need to supply detailed reasons, corroborating evidence and supporting paperwork, with a note from the family doctor and a photo ID. If you still prefer to respond with American vagueness (which I personally love, by the way) don’t be surprised if there’s a pregnant pause as the hosts wait for groveling and a little more info.
And please, if you offer to bring something and are turned down, don’t insist. Unless it’s very close friends or a family gathering, Brits throwing a dinner or a party will not expect their guests to take a salad or dessert. Instead take a nice bottle of wine, a plant or chocolates.
Now, what was that about “how different can it be?”
This post was written by Toni Hargis, an expat Brit living in the States. She is a mother of three, a blogger, and author of "Rules, Britannia: An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom" (St. Martin's Press).
Photo credit: Twitchietai