What Divides Us: 15 Observations From A Brit In New York

American and UK flags flying together
American and UK flags flying together
After American tourist
went viral, I thought why not draw on my own experiences as the reverse; a Londoner in New York. There are the obvious; coffee drinking, weak tea, large portions and juggernaut sized vehicles, but 4 years of living here has opened my eyes to many subtle, yet deeply intrenched, differences. Here are 15 of my observations on the cultural divide:

  • Even after four years I'm still mortified I'll get it wrong when it comes to tipping. It's 20 percent in NYC. When in doubt tip for everything. Doubling the tax at a restaurant is a good rule of thumb, or just double whatever you first thought sounded reasonable.
  • Taxi drivers will shout at you and throw you out of their cab if you don't tip. (True story)
  • Service, service, service. It's all about service. You get so quickly accustomed to good service, it's the main reason you're perceived as a w*nker on your return to Britain. But I maintain over the course of a meal I need my glass of wa'dah refilled at least once.
  • It's perfectly normal to encounter people who will have entire conversations about themselves without asking you a single question. Not everyone is like this but some are and it's in no way meant to cause offense. Even though I know this, I'm always offended.
  • If you hold the door open for someone, many others will spot the chance to follow. Expect to be there for the next four hours.
  • Confidence is ingrained in childhood. Kids really are told they could one day become President. In the UK, this kind of ambition in childhood is more likely to result in a clip round the earhole for having delusions of grandeur. I've met American five-year-olds with more confidence than me.
  • The weather is extreme but it's still rarely a topic of conversation, unless severe weather conditions are threatening. It's less about how you forgot your coat on a sunny but unexpectedly chilly day and more about having to evacuate for flash floods, hurricanes and the odd polar vortex.
  • Banter is not a universal concept. There is still a cultural divide in what we find funny. What would have you falling about laughing with friends back home can often be considered taking things too far, or too harsh. Of course, there are those who love a cutting British sense of humour. I quickly adopt them. It's important to read the room.
  • The severity of swear words is categorized differently here. Stories are not affectionately punctuated with the f-word in the same way they are in Britain. Sh*t is usually ok. The c-word is an absolute no-no. Some people consider blasphemy swearing. Christ, this one's been tough.
  • The extortionate health insurance usually results in top notch care. Delivering my children was like a stay on Park Lane. But you're always slightly suspicious of whether things are necessary for medical or financial reasons.
  • People really do love Obama in New York. Especially after marriage equality and Obamacare, but access to healthcare for all is still out of reach. We don't know how lucky we are to have the NHS.
  • People are less informed on news matters outside of the country. This is by no means universal but I've encountered it more often than not.
  • The nicest of people can have militant views on guns but far more people oppose the current gun laws than you might think. They're just impotent to effect change against the powerful gun lobby.
  • Unless there's a ring on it, dating is fair game. People will date people their friends have been out with and its okay. I've seen it happen with no hint of awkwardness. This concept consumes me with horror.
  • Parenting is a highly competitive sport. Although I have yet to encounter a resumé that highlights the age at which the alphabet was first recited, it seems to be a hot topic amongst parents of small children. They will ask you, in absolute seriousness, how many classes you are taking your baby to. My answer is always; "None. He's a baby."
  • New Yorkers are generally a lot friendlier than you'd expect and there is a genuine affection for the British accent. Strangers have even struck up conversation with me on the subway, a horrifying prospect for anyone used to the Tube where eye contact is forbidden.