How to talk about money in England – Don’t.

Posted on February 5, 2010 by yankeebean


No matter how English I think I’m getting, that ol’ American-ness always manages to seep through the cracks…

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it, but a sometimes it results in severe foot-in-mouth syndrome.  Not the one where you eat dodgy beef and get loopy – the one where you open your yap and offend someone without meaning to.  I’m a freakin’ expert - I should be the case study to see if it’s curable.

Anyway, this is all leading up to the root of most of my red-faced-foot-chewing moments lately.  I keep bringing up money as a knee-jerk reaction.  I do it because it GENUINELY doesn’t bother me, talking about money doesn’t seem like such a big deal in the good ol’ US of A.

But I’m learning very quickly that it bothers everyone else and I should keep my mouth shut.

I usually know I’ve done it because there’s a brief beat of silence and some kind of shuffling ensues.  The dance of discomfort – I quickly join in a split second after everyone else, once I realise that I’ve done it again.  (again!?!  GAHH!!)

But then what should I do??  It’s too late to take it back, I haven’t learned Hiro’s trick of bending space and time, no spare Doloreans nearby to go 1.21 jigawatts.  My current method is to start talking really fast in an obviously over-excited tone trying to fillfillfill.  Subtle?  No… it doesn’t take a genius to spot the vaudeville-worthy performance that I launch in to.

I think the only way to recover is to have a fail-proof subject change, so I’m fishing for ideas… anyone?  Anyone?  Just something to get me by until I get the clue and stop bloody bringing it up like some kind of noob.  Sigh…

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Mel February 22, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Hello Ladies! I’ve been following your website for over a year now but never actually left a comment to any posts despite the fascinating subject matter. I am an American who is intrigued with everything British (due to having met a few British people including my beau), and have to congratulate you, firstly, on your blog and sing my praises for your effort. I find this website to be highly informative while remaining consistently and absorbingly funny, clever, and charming all at once. So kudos ;)

    This post really interested me because of the topics it alludes to, which are the unspoken rules of being British. I haven’t actually visited the U.K. yet (though I do plan on moving there one day), but as anyone who has spoken to an Englishman knows, there are just some things about the English that contrast so drastically with American culture its bound to cause a few awkward pauses in any conversation.

    I’ve gained insight into English culture through arduous question/answer conversations with my guy. (This is when I’m most grateful for the graceful endurance of the British). But I was wondering if you could possibly expound on some things for me and provide us with some anecdotes of your own experiences regarding the unspoken British social rules.

    For instance, my guy told me that 98% of British people absolutely will not speak to and will go to great lengths to ignore a stranger even if they are practically sitting on their lap on the train. This is amazingly peculiar to me.

    Also, from what I gathered, it is common practice to use negatively polite manners rather than positive, inclusive manners like the Americans? Like saying “It would be no imposition” rather than saying “we’d love to have you”

    One that is particularly interesting to me is that the British will apparently endure the worst service and delays because complaining is seen as “making a scene,” which is apparently highly offensive and embarrassing to both the people involved and the innocent bystanders. As an American, I’m accustomed to being assertive (while remaining courteous), when a product I purchased malfunctions, or a service I paid for is falsely advertised or is somehow lacking. It seems mind boggling to me that people would endure poor service without making a formal complaint. My guy, for instance, told me that sometimes repairmen don’t show up on the date or at the time they’re scheduled to and that customer service isn’t at all what it is in America. Is this true or an exaggeration? And if it IS true, how do you deal with that? I see “making a scene” as something entirely different than asking the waiter to finish cooking my nearly raw meat or returning a broken item to a store. So this is slightly off-putting.

    Your post about the money conversations reminded me of something I heard about the British’s attempt to ignore social class..that they don’t tip bartenders with money usually but instead, buy them a beer. As if being a businessman was something to be ashamed of. Have you noticed this?

    Sorry about the long post. I’m planning on travelling to the U.K. for a visit within the year before I decide whether or not to move there and I’d like to mitigate the culture shock you ladies spoke of as much as possible. There’s nothing better than hearing it from an American expatriate who would recognize the differences immediately. Thanks for all the laughs so far. ;)

  2. SM February 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Im a kiwi – and tbh some people do find talking about money uncomfortable – I tend to suffix things with – if that’s not rude :) eg how much did your house cost – if that’s not rude to ask. If they say it is rude Im fine with that – most people are cool though :)

  3. Dreamer…unrealistic?…do i care? February 8, 2010 at 6:12 am

    such a good and true post! my brit is always saying “i hate talking about money”…”I hate money”…and so forth!

  4. Expat Mum February 8, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Brits will talk about money as long as it doesn’t look like they’re showing off – so mentioning how skint they are or how expensive things are is OK. Anything that makes them appear to be bragging however, is just not on. Having said that, like many cultures, they still like people to know when they’ve done well, it’s just a little more subtle.
    And yes, Kate Fox’s book nails this and many other funny little Brit things.

  5. Smitten by Britain February 7, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Someone already mentioned here, but Kate Fox’s book really is an excellent resource for learning how the English think. Even as an American I am sometimes taken aback by how forward other Americans can be. I recently had a woman in my office ask me not only how many credit cards I have, but if I pay them off each month. Gah! Now now that takes a lot of nerve. Some Americans I chat with on Twitter are also very forward and immediately upon meeting start asking very personal questions. I don’t consider myself a terribly private person but this behavior even makes me feel uneasy at first, so imagine if that is not part of your social norm.

  6. yankeebean February 6, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Lordy, I wish I knew. I think my new theory is to avoid it like swine-flu…

  7. Iota February 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I never know what it’s ok to talk about here regarding money. Is it ok to say what your salary is? Or to ask how much someone makes? Can you do it openly, or is it better to do it subtly? What about house prices? If someone is house-hunting, can you ask what kind of price range they’re looking in?

    I still haven’t worked it out.

  8. peacefulyorkshire February 6, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Yep, great post Yankeebean!! I can meekly raise my Shamerican right hand and say that I have talked about specific money this week, esp in light of the recent taxes I forked over on the 31 Jan.
    But I have come across many Brits who have no trouble saying how ‘skint’ they are, but I guess that is not the same things as being specific about exact amounts…EEEkkk someday I’ll learn to shut my trap too… well, if I don’t want to look ‘awkward’!

  9. NFAH February 6, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    It’s interesting because on the one hand there’s this taboo about talking about money but on the other hand I’ve never been around people who spend so much time talking about how expensive everything is as the Brits.

  10. Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels February 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Yeah, discussing money is a no-no in Switzerland, too. Of course expats don’t seem to have that problem – whenever we get together for a book swap or something the topic of “damn, everything is so friggin’ expensive here!!” always seems to pop up :-)

    As for a change of topic, I find new restaurants always a safe bet. Everyone likes food :-)

  11. Mr Sparkles February 6, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I remember reading Kate Fox’s `Watching the English` where she discusses this aversion to any sort of `money-talk`, theorising that it’s a hangover from snootiness towards traders, merchants and other upstart nouveau-riche types.

    I’d call it stupidity, but as an Englishman, I find that I do it myself…

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