A Brit Abroad: Small Talk

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As an Englishman in America, you are seen as an object of fascination in the same way a four leaf clover or a chunk of entirely undigested food in a pool of vomit might also be seen as objects of fascination. You are a Harry-Pottering, Oliver-Twisting, Prince-Charlesing celebrity. Some view you as a pantomime character, others see you as a sarcastic Butler, but one thing they have in common is that they all want to talk to you.

If there is one thing that our well-meaning stateside friends are good at, it’s small talk. Yes, it might come as a surprise – whilst their cars and their portion sizes are disarmingly large, their favourite type of talk is almost microscopic in comparison.

After a month in America, it has made me realise how unfriendly us Brits are. In all seriousness, my favourite aspect of America is the friendliness. It is both a refreshing and consistently jarring shock to find myself chatting to people in any situation. At the supermarket, in the doctor’s waiting room or underneath the gap between bathroom stalls; it doesn’t matter. The entrepreneuring American is an adept conversational hunter-gatherer, finding opportunities to chat about the mundane in situations that an Englishmen would see as an irritating inconvenience. Sharks can smell blood 3 miles away – the same distance that Americans can sense opportunities for smalltalk. They truly are fearsome creatures.

In contrast, for two Englishmen to engage in conversation, there needs to be pre-approved conversation topics, a dress code and thorough background checks conducted two weeks prior to the first word being spoken. After a month here, I’ve already spoken to the cashier at the cornershop as much as I have to my grandfather throughout my entire life.

And the friendliness is a welcome change. For no other reason than you the fact you sound like you attend Hogwarts, people will open doors and buy drinks for you. Wouldn’t you milk it for all its worth? Back in England, I don’t say the word ‘blimey’, I don’t refer my friends as ‘chaps’ or ‘chums’, and I probably say ‘Bob’s your uncle’ once every 5 years, and only when I’m talking to my amnesiac friend about his upcoming family reunion. However, since arriving in America, it’s all changed. I’m talking about the Royal family, lifts, lorries, pavements, traffic lights and trousers as much as I possibly can.

As far as they know, I’m enjoying a light luncheon with the Queen on a daily basis. And when Liz is busy, I’m visiting a few lads from the neighbouring village, Thrumpington-on-Thames, and knocking a croquet ball around the green, mallet in one hand, warm pint of lager in the other.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you’re right. I am being somewhat of a hypocrite. In one breath, I damn the ignorant Americans for seeing us as posh Victorian chimney-sweeps wearing waistcoats, and in the next, I am doing everything in my power to make sure that they view me as a posh Victorian chimney sweep.

Being a Brit abroad reminds me of how I imagine pandas must feel. Everyone loves you and all you’ve done is just exist. Except as a Brit, people thrust scalding mugs of Earl Grey at you rather than armfuls of bamboo.

Am I embarrassed to admit this? Sure. But not enough to stop doing it.

3 Interesting facts about Americans:

  • The pants-trousers-underpants divide is a source of both endless confusion and amusement.
  • They care about the Royal family approximately 98 times more than us.
  • They know as much about UK politics as they do about portion control.
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