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Five Phrases That Don’t Translate Well From British To American English

British and American people both speak English, but it can be strangely difficult when they try communicating with each other. The problem is that there are some shared words that actually mean completely different things. As a Brit who lived for a time in the US, be aware there are some phrases and slang it’s best to avoid using. Read up on these British words and phrases that might cause you a bit of trouble across the pond.

Clothing terms that are decidedly different

A request that’s sure to leave Americans staring blankly at you is, “Can you pass me my jumper?” Every good Brit knows that you are simply requesting your cozy, knitted pullover because you’re cold. When you’re in America, ask for your sweater.

You should be prepared for when an American compliments your clothing with a comment like: “Oh, what a nice pair of pants!” The comment isn’t meant to embarrass you, it’s the term Americans use to describe trousers. So you can confidently thank them and try not to gulp.

Descriptions of behavior are easily misinterpreted

Imagine one night you’re out for a drink with American friends and you tell them in good humor that you’re pissed. The first question they will likely ask you is why you’re mad. There’s a bit of confusion because you’re trying to communicate that you’ve had a few too many and your friends believe you’re angry. In America, the phrase, “I’m so pissed,” means you’re angry at someone or something.

But maybe you are angry, and you threaten someone, “I’ll give you a bunch of fives!” Americans will undoubtedly put out their hand, waiting for you to hand over some money.

How to order food properly

Eating in an American restaurant is like a rite of passage for Brits living abroad. The portions are huge, and waiters will expect a tip just for serving you. While you’re out, don’t accidentally order biscuits and gravy. The wait staff will bring out a doughy, savory bread coated in a white, pepper-flake sauce. If you’re looking for a sweet treat with a cuppa, order a cookie instead.

While you’re shopping

In America, going shopping for groceries is quite a different experience. You’ll need a big trolley to make your way through the massive stores. But don’t ask anyone where to find the trolley, because Americans will assume you’re asking about transportation. Americans call it a shopping cart, or in some rural areas, a buggy.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you don’t have to plunk down a coin to borrow a shopping cart. You will get a few strange looks if you dig through your handbag and exclaim, “I can’t find my purse!” Americans call a purse a wallet, and a handbag is a purse. So it would be confusing to them why you’re digging through a purse looking for your purse.

Don’t let everything go all pear-shaped

Living in America will give you a whole new perspective on the English language. Although people in both countries speak English, translating is a full-time job. Watch a lot of American TV to catch up on the slang and keep yourself from landing in hot water. Leap across the pond smoothly by completing a primer on English first.

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