When random British people (that you’ve only just met) tell you what is wrong with America

Posted on October 12, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire

yahooavatar15Imagine meeting a British person for the first time. Imagine introducing yourself, answering all the questions that you get asked as a foreigner– like having to tell your “America to England” story for the zillionth time. Now, imagine randomly saying to this British person that you have only just met that people in Britain have  bad teeth. Real, real, bad teeth.That you have never been to a country where people have such bad teeth. That you saw this one 15 year old kid on the train and you COULDN”T believe he had such BAD TEETH. Now I am sure you are horrified about doing that, right? No, that would be so rude!  Plus could you imagine the wrath? It is hard enough making female friends in Britain!

Well, for whatever reason, some British people love to point out America’s flaws to me during our first meeting. Like today–a 6o-ish woman from Harrogate decided to tell me that she had NEVER SEEN so much obesity in her life as when she went to America. That she was on this train where she saw this 15 year old kid and he was SO FAT! That she couldn’t believe how many obese people were in America. That she couldn’t imagine how unhealthy THOSE FAT PEOPLE OVER IN AMERICA are.

Running through my head as Mrs. Harrogate ranted at me: Hello? have you seen all the white muffin tops pouring out of jeans in Leeds City Centre  lately, honey? There are fat people here too, and it seems its getting worse according to obesity reports!”

I wish I were brave enough to say that!  But instead, while smiling politely I said “It is just a different lifestyle there, isn’t it? You must excuse me while I go get some milk for my tea…”

Now then, lovely readers! Why would someone decide to tell me this to me, an American? Am I responsible for America’s obesity? Do I even LIVE IN AMERICA anymore? How would I be an expert about America’s weight issues? (I have enough of my own!). Sometimes I think that I have to defend America all the time, and I am so tired of it. Please tell me that you have to take the ‘blame bullet’ too?


P.S.  I don’t really think that all British people have bad teeth. That was used for example purposes only, and is used to represent a silly stereotype that people have of other countries.

P.S.S. I forgot to say that the afore mentioned lady from Harrogate had only visited Florida. And that was it!

P.S.S.S. On a ‘let’s blame America!’ related topic: Why are dinner parties with your British friends so much nicer now that Obama is in the White house? Click here

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  2. Kmiss April 26, 2013 at 4:43 am

    I never been to UK but my Englishman has at times offended me, although I rarely react…funny enough he can sit and rant about Americans achievements “aren’t anything”, how we “never technically won a war” and that “American independence was Brits fighting Brits and England just handed them over”…with little to no clarification on the war of 1812…lol Anyways what I find odd is, don’t let me say anything negative about England, because its a personal insult. Its always about us Americans not offending others, but when the shoes on the other foot we are expected to sit in silence and endure our short comings as punishment. Anyone else get this?

    • yankeebean April 26, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Heh heh, I’ve definitely gotten this.

      A couple of times I’ve brought a negative “Americans are terrible” rant to an end by saying, “Yeah, you know World War II? YOU’RE WELCOME.”

      It doesn’t happen much anymore, though. The ‘friends’ that always used to rip on my homeland? I managed to lose their numbers. Funny how that happens…

  3. kayelem January 8, 2013 at 6:25 am

    In my last week at work before moving to the UK, some pans fell off a shelf and my tooth got chipped. My Mexican born coworker teasingly told me that I’d gotten dientes inglese just in time for my move!

    While in the UK I usually responded to those weird conversations by telling them that’s why we left California for the UK, which either left them gaping like a fish, or turned the conversation to how bonkers we were to leave sunny California. ( we’ve come back to Cali, but today hubby went to a job interview in Glasgow, which is going to be way different from Essex!)

    • yankeebean January 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Glasgow! It’s so gorgeous up there! I must confess, the Scottish accent still gives me trouble sometimes – I can’t always understand it and it makes me feel like such a stereotype.

  4. smittenbybritain April 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I would have had no problem telling her about the girl in Leeds and reminding her that Britain is the fattest country in Europe.

  5. Abby March 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I have lived in the UK for 6 years and I still have to endure this kind of interaction at least once a week. Strangely, I don’t get it from strangers, but from my co-workers. I am so worn down by it. It is especially disorienting because I have never been a patriotic American, quite the opposite. In fact, only my father is American. Growing up in the U.S., I was taught by my parents to question everything, including American politics and culture. I used to get teased by Anglo-Americans about hanging out with non-Anglo-Americans or foreigners too much. So it feels incredibly surreal to come over here and be held to account for all things American, whether factual or based on American stereotypes the British hold dear. I get this mainly from British women at work. I just don’t understand them and I fear they don’t understand me. They always seem to ascribe crass motivations to my actions that I don’t even recognise. When they talk to me, I usually cannot pick up on their intent, but I can tell they don’t like me. I would expect it if I was a very loud, talkative person, but I am quiet. I don’t like to join in their office chat or gossip. If they ask me about my personal life, I tell them it is very boring. I go home, cook dinner, watch IPlayer, go for walks, etc. I wonder what they expect from me. Contrary to my pre-conceived notions about British people, they are incredibly obvious about gossiping about me behind my back and they treat me as if I am very ill and deserve their pity. I don’t have a clue about how to remedy this situation so I just keep more to myself.

  6. USExpat February 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    *sigh* This is a real touchy subject for me. I have lived here for 6 years now and I believe, when encountering the Brits or any European for that matter, you have 6-10 minutes of social skills on display if you are lucky. After that it is downhill. They will insult you, your country, your race (I’ve had that) or whatever. That’s just the way they are. It is rude and I do point it out or walk off. If I were younger, I would just ignore it but I’m a bit older now and don’t have a lot of patience for it. Not really. A great deal of it is that people don’t think before they speak—I’m afraid that is just a worldwide trait. Some of it is that the stereotypes about Americans is so prevalent and treated as the absolute gospel truth that they do not feel they are being insulting…just speaking the truth. But as we all know, even speaking the truth can be rude. It may be true that someone is ugly or lousy in bed, but saying it at a dinner party is still rude! Some people never make that connection.

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  8. Margaret Leigh January 9, 2010 at 1:13 am

    It is bad in New Zealand that way. They seem to blame individual Americans for everything they dislike about America, and feel free to make hostile remarks even when they don’t know you. This includes complaints about political imperialism, pop-cultural imperialism, pollution, McDonalds (this is a favorite), gross ignorance (geography), how Americans are living off the backs of everyone else in the world, how gun-crazy and illiterate we are, how idiotic our leaders are, how lawsuit-happy. You name it. Extremely unpleasant to encounter it as frequently as I have down here. There are a great many British people down here in New Zealand, and I must say, yes, their teeth are as cosmetically challenged as the Kiwis’ teeth are. Think Father Jack, all of them. But that’s a good thing. Because Americans don’t need sparkly teeth, Botox and boob jobs! Lookism is just part and parcel of all these things that are WRONG with us! :-D

  9. yankeebean December 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    EVERY TIME someone says ‘You’re not from around here’, I go into auto-pilot because I know what the next 30 second of chat will consist of…

    I bet if Mr Nice Guy said, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ to me in my sleep, I’d launch into the standard responses…

  10. dragonflysky December 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I am from North Carolina, living in North West England and I too am tired of random strangers telling me what’s wrong with America. And since I work in a library, I encounter random strangers for 8 hours a day! I hear all kinds of opinions and sentiments about “The Colonies” from probably 65% of the people I help. I know they don’t realize that ten other people have made similar comments to me before they encountered me. And sometimes I can tell they are being good natured about it. I do feel myself getting really defensive a lot of the times it happens, though and it can really rattle my nerves at work to always feel on the defensive! After reading what Steve said about how people taking the piss out of me might possibly mean they are being affectionate, I see everything in a new light: They must really adore me!

  11. peacefulyorkshire October 26, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Oh Redlillocks,
    That IS a good response about making a point about Gordon Brown, I must say!!! Have to put that one in my “comeback” pocket….

    Now now…SURELY Dracula is from Pennslyvania? I could have SWORN!? hehe

    • Robert Davidson June 25, 2013 at 12:19 am

      Dracula is supposed to be from Transylvania in present day Romania

  12. Redlilocks October 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I think it really used to upset me the first couple years I was here that I felt like I had to take responsibility for every wrong in the States. Now, I usually respond with, ‘Oh I’m sorry, did you vote for Gordon Brown?’ ‘No..’ ‘Well I didn’t vote for Bush either so I’m no more responsible for the ills in my country than you are for yours’ with a wink.

    Whenever I get the comment, ‘Oh Americans are so ignorant about geography’, I usually tell them that there have been MANY times (no lie) when, after explaining that I grew up in Pennsylvania, the response has been, ‘Isn’t that where Dracula is from?’ with absolutely NO HINT of amusement! That normally shuts them up! lol

  13. VictoriainDallas October 22, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    My English fiance is visiting this week. We spent a bunch of time in Chi town reviewing wedding details. At some point we were chatting about my lovely medical and dental insurance and he threw out that he may want to get his “wonky” teeth fixed. Up until I met him, my sister and I have been big teeth people only wanting to date guys with great teeth but now I could care less. I love his “wonky” teeth and to be honest I can’t imagine what he would look like without them. But he may be on a mission…time will tell. :)

  14. yankeebean October 20, 2009 at 1:22 pm


    That is one of the best things I’ve ever seen!!

  15. Yorkshireyank October 20, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Such a cool video.

    To be fair, though, when someone bashes George Bush, why would you assume that they are assuming that you voted for George Bush?

    If someone says, I think George Bush’s policies sucked, I just say “Yeah. Me too.”

    I don’t take it as a personal criticism.

  16. Margo October 20, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Oh my goodness this little video was so funny reminded of a chat I had with my British bf when he was drunk, how he was going on and on about how happy he was the the US didn’t get the Olympics, and I keeps saying how I didn’t really care, and I didn’t really know anyone else who really cared, but he kept going on and on about it, till I just sighed and just stopped talking he didn’t even notice ( mind you he was drunk) I did point out to him the next day how rude he was being to me.

  17. Iota October 15, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Must have been telepathy. I posted on the same subject here (with a movie on the subject too!)


    • peacefulyorkshire October 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Iota, you little genius, you!
      I was laughing so hard at your lil video. Situations like these are so common in my everyday. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Steve Shawcross October 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I think you’ll fit in without much problem PepperAnn :D You sound like an affable and intelligent person, people up north are renowned for their friendliness.

    I’m in no doubt you are polite and sincere, but a friendly tip: Be careful with being too “touchy-feely” or “loud”– it can be seen as being rude in the UK: It depends on the setting though, you’d get away with it at booze-filled party! Plus we do expect it from the Americans– you make a refreshing change in some ways ;)

    Yeah, you may get the American stereotypes wheeled out (usually borne out of ignorance than malice), but there are plenty of Brits who have travelled the USA to some extent.

    Just be your genial self and display a robust sense of humour (you need it living here!)– and you’ll be as right as ninepence :)

  19. Savannah October 15, 2009 at 4:48 am

    ” But agreed totally that on average I’d say more people are out of shape here in the UK than in the US, there’s just not as many gym-bunnies to balance out the average muffin tops I see every day.”

    It depends on where you are. If you are seeking a nation-wide generalization supported by survey and statistics, how about these stats about obesity (from : http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity ):

    U.S. : 30.6%
    U.K. : 23%

    Those Brits could do with some catching-up! :-)

    Anecdote is fine, but be aware of the fact that it does not give, by itself, a full picture.

    It could also be the case that the Brits (a) walk more, (b) use their sport fields more, playing soccer, rugby and cricket at a local level. They came third in the Olympics after the U.S. and Russia despite being much smaller in population, so some of them cannot be total lard-asses!

    • peacefulyorkshire October 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

      Hi Savannah,
      Thanks for your statistics and your opinions on SNFY. The point of my post was not to disparage British as a fat nation or to make stereotypes about which country has the most spilling out of jeans, who is fatter, who has won more Olympic gold medals, which country walks more, who uses sport fields more. Personally, I could care less. Just to clarify, The point of this post, is that I am tired of random strangers telling me what they don’t like about America.

      Ms. PeacefulYorkshire

  20. PepperAnn October 15, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I am moving to the uk (north east) in about 6 months…I have been following this website religiously . I am quite worried about how the brits will take me. I am Texan (am loud and a touchy feely person!) but not rude and brash. I shake hands with people. I get excited over stuff that apparently is OTT (over the top) I laugh out loud, I ask questions, and I enjoy being happy and excited!!….My husband has been in texas for 2 yrs. He says …well they will just have to get used to you!
    Am soooo worried. Southerners in the US…we all think we are different from the rest of america (huzzahhh). But boy am i in for a culture shock…Just wondering if anyone else is from texas and is now an “expat” and how your southern hospitality habits..mentality etc has gone over with the brits. I dont feel as if I should change how I am, But is the” When in Rome” the reality?
    I hope that I can be myself and still be accepted. Otherwise ppl are gonna just have to get over it.

    However I am making it my home, so hmm what to do?? My husband says well you will see how different it is there and maybe you will change? Hubby is supportive and loving yay! but I dont think its the same for a brit in america. I think they just see the stereotypical “Dude like omg” and trucks everywhere.As an american in UK, I feel that (hubby agrees on this as well) it will be so much harder for me. Because of the point that here we care too much. We are too personal…too involved in everyones day to day basics. Any who. Sorry I am rambling. Anyones advice is taken! Thanks yall!

    • yankeebean October 15, 2009 at 1:22 pm

      PepperAnn – I couldn’t agree with your husband more. I’m sure you’ll roll with the punches and live and learn and do all those things you’re supposed to do when you move somewhere new. Some days will be amazing adventures, some will be insanely frustrating – but it’s going to be awesome in the long run :)

  21. wickedripeplum October 14, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Oh NFAH I saw a German article recently that was both hilarious and infuriating on the people clearly don’t know where/what the midwest (or, you know, any part of the US that isn’t NYC or LA) is front. It said something about how Obama was an east coaster like Clinton and unlike Bush. Because apparently the east coast isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. Or possibly the author knew absolutely nothing about any of their biographies. It went on to clarify that the east coast was Europe oriented, while the west coast is more concerned with Latin America and Asia. Everyone in between was an insular, gun toting, Jesus freak.

    • Alex Krycekov November 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      Yeah, I’ve heard that sort of thing quite a bit from Brits and Europeans of various nationalities. I usually inform them that syndicated tv shows are not a reliable source of cross-cultural information. These are usually the same people who’re the first to chime in with the uninformed American stereotype, which is all kinds of hilarious.

  22. NFAH October 13, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I admit it, I’ve never seen as much obesity in my life as the last time I was at Disney World. But agreed totally that on average I’d say more people are out of shape here in the UK than in the US, there’s just not as many gym-bunnies to balance out the average muffin tops I see every day. And most people here have never even heard of the midwest. And I get asked all the time if I went to MIT (because surely that’s the only technical science/engineering university in the US, right?)

  23. Steve Shawcross October 13, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Aaah thanks Rachel– I think your reference to me was affectionate anyway [LOL]! I just try to be fair and objective, and be realistic. I promise not all us Brits are monsters! ;)

    We know life here is nowhere near as good as the USA¬, so we have to keep ourselves sane by laughing about it and ourselves! In fact the books Crap Towns I and II are recommend examples of that… a sequel had to be published, because people complain their towns weren’t feature in the first book!

    I do like your stock response to criticisms of the USA, good one. As Expat Mum says, the best thing to do is laugh it off… it takes the wind out of the sails of your tormentor, makes you look charming. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”

    Good point about the Candians Wickedripeplum… I’ve notice your northern neighbours have a low opinion of the USA, for whatever reason. Still the superb Al Yankovic got his own back with his recent song “Canadian Idiot”!

  24. wickedripeplum October 13, 2009 at 7:10 am

    You so don’t need to go all the way to the UK for that shit. When I lived in Canada I had so many awkward moments like this. Now I didn’t get Americans are fat and have stupid accents stuff as Canadians are not really much thinner and are well aware of what most Americans sound like, but there was more than enough Americans are insular and stupid to go around. Random people I just met wanted to debate foreign policy with me. Because obviously 18 year old me was a devoted neocon and had a direct line to Bush. And there were several incidents of people not realizing I was American and having a go at how stupid Americans were. There’s no words for how awkward it is to say you’re American after that. Not sure how that would go in the UK (well it probably couldn’t actually happen in the UK), but in Canada it would end with awkward silence and then people falling all over themselves to wildly backtrack over the fact that they’d as much as called me a moron to my face.

    To make myself feel better I’d treasure all the times people said something about Americans that was inadvertently ironic. Like that time my friend’s roommate (a Montrealer born and bred) goes “What is it about being from south of the 49th parallel that drops your IQ by 10 points?”

  25. Expat Mum October 13, 2009 at 2:53 am

    Like most stereotypes, they are “busted” as soon as someone meets the real thing, (“Oh but you’re not like most Americans”.) Pure ignorance, and to be smiled at – that usually makes the offender more embarrassed than anything else.
    I have to say though, that the first time I set foot on American soil in 1987, in Boston, I was taken roundly to task about the whole Irish/English thing, despite the fact that my mother’s side of the family is Irish and I’m Catholic. The guy didn’t want to know. Just wanted to blame me for it all.
    It’s global.

  26. Rachel October 12, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Steve — you can be counted on to play “The Royal Defender of All Things British.” I love it! To be fair, Peaceful Yorkshire said that all the silly national stereotypes are ridiculous.

    Peaceful Yorkshire and everyone else out there — I’ve heard this comment often from my sister who moved over to Scotland. First and foremost, I must applaud your manners and ability to side-step a barbed comment. I’ve travelled often and hear the same sort of comment in Australia/New Zealand as well as in France. (Don’t even get me started on what French people have said to me — haha! I think we’d all need psycho-therapy!) There are boobs on both sides of the pond and you should give yourself a (small, modest, no-tall-poppy) pat on the back for gracefully dealing with them.

    Now for some comedy. I read your post today to the lunch room. It had many people (from various countries) holding their sides laughing. As I’ve announced to work now that I’m departing to England, they collectively advised me to handle such conversational faux-pas by saying: “Thank you for your feedback. In my role as a spokesperson for all of America, I will make sure to record and pass-on your thoughts to the President.” (Actually, I’m a wuss. I’d probably go for the tea-route, myself!)

  27. Steve Shawcross October 12, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    As Sonja wonderfully points out, such hypocrisy is not limited to the UK… I think it exists across the world: People making derogatory comments about the USA being insular/ignorant; then displaying making further pejorative comments about the USA, thus displaying their own insularity/ignorance!

    I can’t speak for Norway, or other countries outside the USA; but if the British make such comment, it *tends* to be affectionate. A paradoxic thing about British culture, is that if one Brit takes the piss out of another, it is a sign of affection. I can see how to a non-Brit that can come across as rude/annoying.

    I don’t think Americans can complain *too* much though, because in my experience Americans can be just as cheeky– can say you’re not above such things on this site? ;) : I’m pleased to say I’ve had the honour of visiting the USA twice now, I have many cherished US friends/acquaintances. As it happens, they’ve teased me about the British having bad teeth, even saying I have bad teeth [LOL]. Also the British are prissy toffs, repressed or drunks!

    I think the Americans do and can tease the British constantly, because you know we can laugh at ourselves– fair play– we don’t mind. Indeed I personally don’t mind the Americans making comments about bad teeth, toffs and so on.

    I just see the funny side of it; I know such badiange isn’t true, and I’m sure my Amercian friends do too. Equally I would say Brits making comments about gung-ho or obese Americans are done with an ironic wink… I’d like to think most of my fellow Brits are sensible enough to realise not all Americans aren’t like that. Besides the British are fast catching up with the USA, in the obesity stakes, so we have no room to talk (excuse pun!).

  28. Miss America October 12, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I’ve also noticed that there seems to be this sense of “I know everything about America because I’ve been to New York, Boston and Miami”. I once was at a neighbor’s party and one guest said to me…”so, you’re American…but you’re not fat!” (what does one say to that?) He then went on to ask me if it’s really true that we don’t think British people brush their teeth – so that was a bizarre experience! (And I definitely agree, Kathryn, that even if I agree I feel like I get really defensive!) My favorite to date though, is being out with some of my Gent’s friends and one said “But she’s not AMERICAN – American”. Er…Yep, I am. Because if you meet one that doesn’t meet the stereotype, it must be that they are different, and not that the stereotype won’t fit once you actually talk to people.

  29. Dyana October 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    i’ve answered the fat comments i’ve encountered with numerous true answers.
    it depends on where in the country you’re talking about

    {laugh} i’d think the some similar things of brits if i had seen all the reality shows defore i moved here

    and my favourite
    are you calling me fat? (5’6” 9.5 stone)

    for politics i generally engage people calmly and explain nicely that americans are not some borg collective. i’ve also been told that i’m not the type of american someone expected, ie brash, loud, rude. i just smiled and laughed. knowing what people see on tv of americans and our culture, these comments don’t really surprise me any more.

  30. Sonja October 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Ugh. That is really annoying. It’s not just limited to Brits, either.

    Hubby and I (both of us American) were in Norway on holiday. An Australian woman our age was behind us in line for a ferry, and we struck up a converstaion. She proceeded to tell us how Americans don’t travel enough and get out and see the world… Again, she is talking to 2 American expats who are in Norway at the time of the conversation.

    I tried smiling and being polite about it, explaining that the amount of holidays Americans are given (2 weeks, 3 if you’re lucky) make it quite difficult to travel, and that many prefer to avoid long plane rides for what would be a fairly short holiday, but she was relentless.

  31. Kathryn October 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I remember an aweful New Years party last year where I was surrounded by people I had never met who started off every small talk conversation with a diatribe about what is wrong with the states. The really frustrating thing was that I may have agreed with most of what they were saying but I felt like I was being put on the defensive because their behaviour was just so incredibly rude. The evening ended in a screaming match with my now ex who just did not understand how frustrating the evening had been.

  32. Ashley October 12, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I have definitely had to take the blame bullet and I have also definitely noticed some hypocritical behaviour in the UK. I have had people tell me that all Americans are uneducated and don’t know that anything exists of England beyond London (which may be true in some cases) but then they go on to try and regale me with their American holiday stories and make rash generalizations about the people they encountered (e.g. that everyone is fat, a loud redneck, etc). I actually had my boss, who I thought was quite smart, tell me my accent was nice because it didn’t sound too “American” (i.e. I didn’t sound like George W). I tried to explain that just like in England, there are many different accents in America, but that seemed to disappoint him. I think he liked the idea of all Americans with Texan accents, enormous bellies, a bud in one hand and a fried chicken leg in the other and I disappointed him :P

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