20 Embarrassing Mistakes Americans Should Avoid Making When Visiting The U.K.

The U.K. has so much to offer – well, apart from the weather. There’s no language barrier for visiting Americans, either, and that could account for why millions of folks from the U.S. head across the pond each year. But if you ever choose to take a trip to the land the locals sometimes call Blighty, there are certain things that you simply shouldn’t do. And if you’re responsible for any of the following embarrassing no-nos, get ready to be on the receiving end of some famously cutting British wit.

20. Don’t talk about how much money you’ve got

Rich and want to boast about it? That may be A-OK in the US of A, but it’s certainly not in the U.K. Giving their tip on what to avoid when across the pond, Reddit user butwhatsmyname wrote, “Don’t talk about how much money you have. Discussing money is surprisingly distasteful in England.”

If you’re wondering why that’s the case, Quora user Karen Pollack offered a potential explanation. She wrote, “It’s probably a respect for privacy, an understanding on some level of the superficial nature of wealth as a way of judging someone [and] good manners. Many cultures find boasting, or obvious displays of wealth to lack class, to be overly personal or simply rude.” The Brits may see you as childish, basically.

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19. Talking to strangers

In the United States, talking to someone that you don’t know on the street isn’t that unusual. But Americans should be wary of trying the same thing with Brits – particularly if you’re visiting London. As user Nosferatii wrote on Reddit, “If you’re in the south of England, don’t think we’re being rude if you try to spark up a conversation with a stranger in public and we look at you weird.”

“It’s just not that common a thing to do [in the United Kingdom],” Nosferatii added. Not convinced? Well, the 2017 Expat Insider survey also suggests that Brits keep to themselves. Out of 65 countries across the world, the United Kingdom was ranked 52nd for “friendliness” and 49th for “finding friends.”

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18. Don’t use Scottish money in England

Wherever you travel in the U.S., one thing remains the same: money. Yep, if you have a buck, a ten-spot or even a Benjamin, you can spend it anywhere. But the financial situation can get a little more confusing when you go on vacation to the United Kingdom.

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One Reddit user recalled, “I took £100 in Scottish money with me [to England]. Most people looked at me [horrified]. Do not use Scottish money.” Although the four nations within the union all have the pound as currency, Northern Ireland and Scotland have alternative bills, while Wales and England don’t. Now you know…

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17. Biscuits are cookies

When you ask for a biscuit in the United States, you’ll know what you’re getting – with or without gravy. But the term has a different meaning in the United Kingdom. If you look for biscuits there, you’ll be greeted by some standard cookies.

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To confuse you even further, U.S. biscuits are very similar to what are called scones in the United Kingdom. But you wouldn’t pair a scone with gravy unless you want some weird stares and confused tastebuds. Often, you see, Brits eat these baked goods with clotted cream and jam, as they’re sweet rather than savory.

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16. Asking if locals know the Queen

In the U.S., the closest you get to royalty is… well, Queen Latifah. It’s no surprise, then, that so many Americans are fascinated with the British monarchy. Don’t believe us? According to CNBC, over 29 million people in the States watched Prince Harry’s wedding in 2018.

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But that royal enthusiasm can draw some unwanted looks when you travel to the United Kingdom. And you should never, ever ask a Brit if they know the Queen. For a bit of perspective, it’d be similar to someone else wondering aloud whether you’re best buds with the president – just because you’re from the same country.

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15. Never be impolite

In an ideal world, everyone would be polite and respectful towards one another. In reality, though, we’re all a little rude from time to time. But however you comport yourself at home, be on your best behavior when you’re in the U.K. You’re more likely to be pulled up on terrible manners there – or frowned at, at least.

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And a Reddit user named super_nat556 offered some handy advice to tourists in the United Kingdom. They wrote, “When someone asks ‘Alright?’ or ‘How are you?’ under no circumstances are you to reply negatively. Lie if you have to, but unless you never want anyone to talk to you again reply with ‘Fine,’ ‘Good thanks,’ or anything similar. Also, just general politeness goes a very long way.”

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14. Don’t make fun of British teeth

Stereotyping a whole nation is lazy, to say the least. But sometimes it’s a hard habit to break. So, if the first thing that comes to mind about the U.K. is “bad teeth,” you can just about be forgiven. Folks across the pond, on the other hand, definitely won’t be so kind when you break out the Austin Powers jokes.

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And your preconceptions of Brits’ oral health are probably outdated, as in 2015 the BBC reported that U.K. citizens had splashed over $2.4 billion on dental work the previous year. Dentist Uchenna Okoye said to the broadcaster, “Rightly or wrongly, we are appearance-driven. And as teeth have become more of a focus with makeover shows and celebrity news, people have become more interested.” Expect a surprising amount of Hollywood smiles, in fact.

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13. Mimicking the British accent

We all have accents that may sound strange to outsiders. And if you’ve ever heard a poor attempt at a Southern drawl or a Midwestern twang, you’ll remember the horrible second-hand embarrassment you felt. That’s what it’s like for the British when people suddenly try to speak Cockney or pretend they’re from Liverpool.

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Reddit user NeilParmesan backed this up, writing, “[Don’t] talk with a fake English accent and say ‘pip pip!’ and ‘cheerio!’ a lot.” Another Redditor named UncensoredChef concurred, adding, “[Don’t] call people ‘guvna.’” You’ll be mocked at best.

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12. Cutting in line

Hating line-cutters isn’t exactly a uniquely British trait. But for people in the U.K., waiting your turn is serious business. And if a tourist decides to ignore the line, they could incite a lot of pent-up anger from the locals. Take it from social anthropologist Kate Fox, who once tried it out for herself.

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Speaking to the South China Morning Post in 2004, Fox recalled, “Jumping ahead of people in [line] to gauge their reaction was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. For the English, queue-jumping is a deadly sin, which it isn’t in other cultures. A raised eyebrow is a sort of stab to the heart.”

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11. Calling the United Kingdom “England”

The United Kingdom isn’t made up of just a single country but four: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, not everyone from the U.K. is English – as you may learn to your cost if you’re ever in Glasgow. And to make things even more complicated, Great Britain is something else entirely. That’s comprised of just three of those nations: England, Wales and Scotland.

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So, you can call Welsh people British. Scottish folk probably won’t object to the term, either. But for your own sake, don’t make the mistake of labeling everyone in the U.K. as English – unless you have top-of-the-line health insurance, that is.

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10. Don’t assume you’re just paying for your own drink

There’s nothing better than relaxing at a bar with your buddies after a long, hard day at work. That frosty beer tastes all the better when it’s been hard-earned. If you’re with a group of Brits in a pub across the pond, though, be prepared to buy plenty of beers when it’s your round.

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Yes, when British friends get together at the pub, they’ll often use the rotating round system. That means each person will pay for the whole group’s drinks at least once. Tourists aren’t exempt from this, either, if they join a table of locals. So, whatever you do, don’t ignore the call to the bar when it’s your turn, as you’ll leave an unflattering impression.

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9. Don’t snap your fingers at waiting staff

Waiting tables can be a thankless task at the best of times, but the job is made a lot easier if customers are at least kind, courteous and leave huge tips. Spare a thought for your server, then, and treat them with respect. For American tourists and other foreign visitors, that means avoiding certain no-nos in U.K. restaurants.

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A Reddit user shared an example, writing, “Do not flag or snap your fingers at a waitress to get her attention. I was getting lunch today and watched a Russian family flag their waitress over by getting to their feet and waving like a madman.” This is seen as rude – which is a cardinal sin for British folk.

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8. Assume the weather will be awful

Ah, the weather – the fail-safe topic for small talk with strangers and distant relatives alike. But regardless of whether you’re experiencing a bone-chilling cold snap or an overwhelming heatwave in your part of the U.S., you’re probably content in the knowledge that British people have it just that bit worse.

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Isn’t the weather always awful across the pond? Well, no, but it is changeable. So, although the U.K. does have hot days in summer, they can be quickly followed by a week of rain. Don’t expect winters to always be freezing, either. Your best bet is to check the forecast before your trip to ensure that you don’t come home with frostbite or heatstroke.

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7. Kissing as a greeting

Not every culture is as touchy-feely as others. So, while something may be deemed acceptable in your own country, it won’t necessarily be welcomed warmly overseas. And the British reputation for being reserved and stand-offish is nowhere more evident than when it comes to greetings.

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If you’re introduced to a stranger in the United Kingdom, then, keep it simple. Shake hands rather than offering a kiss – unless the Brit you’re greeting goes in for a peck themselves. And in general, hugs should be avoided, too, so try to keep that in mind when you touch down.

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6. Don’t ask a local to “speak English”

If you’ve ever politely nodded along at a fellow American with a truly indecipherable accent, then try to exercise that same patience with the British. And while you may always not know what they’re saying, be nice about it. At the very least, don’t ever tell someone from the U.K. to, well, speak English.

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Reddit user medianbailey concurred, writing, “If someone sounds strange, and you don’t understand anything coming out of their mouth, DO NOT ask them to speak English. They’re probably just from Birmingham or any northern city. [Or] Wales, Scotland, Ireland.”

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5. It’s not soccer

Americans like football. Brits like football. Sounds like they have something in common, right? Not quite. Well, while a select few in the U.K. may be Cowboys or Patriots fans, many more people prefer soccer – but they actually call it football on their side of the pond.

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Funnily enough, the word “soccer” was initially coined in the U.K. back in the 1860s. America then adopted the term at the turn of the 20th century. But politely refrain from telling the Brits around you about that fact, and just refer to soccer as football for the duration of your stay to keep on everyone’s good sides.

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4. Don’t make a spectacle

There’s a chance that you’ll know at least one person who isn’t afraid to be loud in public. If you don’t know anyone like that, you probably are that loud person. And while being the center of attention isn’t always a bad thing, you should know that Brits tend to look at noisy folks with some disdain.

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“Do bear in mind that England is a remarkably culturally diverse place. Different parts of the country can have very different attitudes and accents,” Redditor butwhatsmyname wrote on the discussion website. “Take care to observe how the people around you are dealing with something, and just go with it. The English loathe spectacle and embarrassment above almost all else.”

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3. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk

In the United Kingdom a “Rules for pedestrians” webpage was launched by the government back in 2015. And, overall, there are 35 points – yes, you read that right – that people must abide by when roaming Britain’s sidewalks. But this guide didn’t cover one particularly annoying offense that locals sometimes have to deal with – particularly in areas with plenty of overseas visitors.

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When discussing the dos and don’ts for tourists in the United Kingdom, a Reddit user spoke up. They wrote, “[Don’t] stop in the middle of any busy pavement and take pictures.” That’s an easy way to cause a logjam and summon the wrath of any folks looking to get past in a hurry.

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2. Don’t make fun of the food

What comes to mind when you picture British food? Fish and chips, perhaps? Anything else? Well, even if you’re not too sure what people in the U.K. actually eat, you may still have a dim view of their cuisine. That’s partly down to a reputation earned after the end of WWII.

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Until the ’50s, you see, British citizens were still on food rations, and that didn’t exactly leave much room for culinary improvement. But things have changed a lot for the better. In 2016 The Daily Telegraph even reported that the U.K. had more Michelin-starred restaurants than the States, which has to count for something.

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1. Don’t touch the royal guards

The Queen’s Guard’s iconic red jackets and furry black hats make them instantly recognizable to anyone visiting a royal residence. They’re known for being permanently stern, too, but that hasn’t stopped tourists from trying to make the soldiers smile. And if you’re lucky, one of the men may even crack a sly grin on your visit.

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But if you take things too far, the guards will let you know about it very quickly. As Reddit user SinkTube explained, “[Don’t] touch the guards. You can mess around in front of them and they’ll ignore you, but touch them and prepare for a world of hurt.” Simply put, keep your hands to yourself.

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