When your ‘American in Britain-self’ becomes your own worst nightmare: the ugly American

Posted on March 1, 2010 by peacefulyorkshire


It happened. (YET AGAIN!)

Today. I . became. that. annoying. American.

I didn’t mean to be. I didn’t walk in the mizzle with my cheery Cath Kidston bag on my arm armed  to go ’cause a scene’. It just came out of me like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like giving birth–over time (erm, like every nine months or so)  it just has to come out.

My ‘ugly American’ moment happened by stating to the Sainsbury’s cashier:

‘is the price on the computer screen for those maxipads wrong? Weren’t they on sale? They were under the sale shelf. And were clearly marked with a promotional sign.

No, she said.

I don’t mind paying the extra pound, it is the principal of it, I would have chosen something else if I had known.

Sorry, those ones are not included in the offer.

Ok….can I speak to your store manager about making the sign more clear so other women aren’t confused too?

Glares all around from 16 people behind me wanting to buy their lunch. No other noise except my American-self filling the store. A few nervous shuffles behind me. I had caused a scene! And over maxipads! What was I thinking?

If I didn’t have my American twang (no matter how ‘Britified’ it may sound to my American family let’s face it, a twang is a TWANG) would I have gotten all those dirty looks at the till? Probably.

My American-ness just added to everyone’s annoyance. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if I were in the USA.

Nothing was resolved, I didn’t get the maxipads at the sale price. And I felt really stupid walking out with the British stare at my back. Sigh.

Even if I am about to marry a Brit, I am afraid I just can’t give up my customer rights, nor my strong opinions.

A thought dawned on me. Maybe I am the one that the annoying American stereotype is based on…. and I even live here permanently!! hehe


Customer neglect in the UK?

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What Others Are Saying

  1. dyana July 31, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    i know this is an oldie, but it was stuck in my head for the 10 minutes i was waiting at the ASDA self checkout for a price to be confirmed. my 78p a kilo onions were ringing up as 87p.

    yes, for all of about 7p (for 5 onions) i checked with the on duty clerk, who got the produce manager, who said, yes, i was right, and then made the change in the system.

    then because it seems to take an hour for such a change to propagate, i got my measly 5 onions for free.

    i was properly embarrassed, don’t worry :)

    • peacefulyorkshire August 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      Love your story Dyana!!
      Hey, even if its tampons or onions, it’s just the point of wanting to be charged the correct price as it is labelled, I completely hear ya!

  2. NYJenzinUK June 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    I try to reign myself in so much over here but I’ve had a few of these moments as well! It has always been customer service related — the worst two incidents at a restaurant or pub where the service was abysmal, once at Tesco. My English guy gets this look on his face like “Oh, God, she’s off,” but honestly, half the time I don’t even think I’m being that obnoxious or aggressive, it’s just compared to the complete lack of a scene-making/complaining that seems to be more standard behavior here. It’s usually not until afterward that I realize I’ve done something that makes me stand out even more than my Yank accent :) What I find pretty funny is that when my parents or friends come visit me now, I’m the one who kind of hushes them down from making a scene over bad service/bad drivers/etc. saying “It’s okay, that’s just how they do things here!” My last annoying-American moment happened just a week ago so there should be at least a few months before my next outburst — luckily, most of the time my English partner seems oddly proud of being with an American (he likes Nascar, which may have something to do with it), which kinda gives me the inner strength to bite my tongue on many occasions :) — (on a side note, so glad I’ve found this blog as I’ve had an insanely hard time making English girlfriends over here and it gets a little lonely doing a degree with virtually no social interactions!)

  3. Mander May 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Sometimes this works to your advantage. My husband and I were in a Spar corner shop that had a huge display of those large bottles of Leffe beer, with matching promotional goblets. They were 2 pint bottles, I think? I can’t recall how big they are exactly. Anyway, the display had signs all over it saying “3 for £5 plus two glasses!”. When we went to check out they tried to charge us £4 for EACH bottle. DH was going to just let it go but I insisted on taking one of the signs off the display to show to the manager, who agreed to charge us the price it said but immediately went and took down the sign.

    I was originally going to pick up six bottles–I really wish I had! What a steal!

  4. Steve Shawcross March 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Actually Jovana I do complain, and I’m British! Often do it at supermarkets, when they have discounted something properly. You are right broadly though, we don’t do it enough.

    It’s only considered “causing a scene” if you do it aggressively– I find being assertive is far better. Certainly more effective than writing to Watchdog anyway.

  5. jovana March 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Of course no British person would have made a scene. He/She would have simply gone home and written a strongly worded letter to the BBC. That’s what they do over here. They live for it.

    I think you were exactly right to do what you do. Its not so much the few pence savings, its the principle and I totally get that. Daily I am bothered by the level of customer care / service in this country (or lack thereof). Its not that I have overly high American standards, I just have some standards.

  6. Steve March 6, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I have to say ladies, that I agree 100% with your making a fuss if the item was priced incorrectly. I am not American I am a Yorkshireman and i have done just as you have, many times, albeit not for maxipads or tights. I have no concern if people behind me are held up, that is a problem for the supermarket to address. Well done for sticking to your guns. It is not a matter of your nationality, it is a matter of what is right.

  7. Steve Shawcross March 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Michelle is right about Brits not being comfortable about people who take themselves seriously, in fact we positively dislike it… hence our loathing for Piers Morgan, Heather Mills and Jeffery Archer!

    I’m glad to see you lovely America gals don’t take yourselves seriously. In a way, I’m glad you are ‘brave’ enough to cause a scene here; a customer service is often lax, because we often don’t bother to! Although when we do complain it’s all very polite and assertive, equally effective ;)

    “America way foward in Europe”… it depends where you are in Europe. The Dutch and British may not like you causing a scene, but in Germany you’d probably get a round of applause! In Switzerland they are so efficient, you wouldn’t have need to complain [haha]

  8. Michelle March 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I’m an American living in the Netherlands with my Dutch partner, and can appreciate many of the posts on your blog. I became the “Annoying American at the Supermarket” yesterday when I noticed I was charged for 3 bags of frozen potatoes earlier this week (they were on sale 2 for 1.99, so I am certain that I only picked up 2). Since there was no one in line behind me at the till I decided the timing was perfect to mention it. One of the greatest comforts living here is that the percentage of adults who speak English is very high. We just moved to a small village, though, and I notice that the percentage is lower than it was living in a major city. It took a few minutes before the woman at the till understand what I was explaining, and then of course she needed to get the sleutel (key) to deduct the money I was overcharged. Of course, by this point there were no fewer than 6 people now in line, and the woman immediately behind me was especially annoyed by my very existence it seemed. I turned to her and attempted to apologize (fortunately “sorry” means the same thing in Dutch!). As soon as she realized that I’m American she seemed even more annoyed and wouldn’t even look at me, let alone respond to my apology. She had a very impatient-looking husband waiting next to her by the door. At least she called me ‘mevrouw’ (madam) while she made a clearly unpleasant remark about me. In the end I got my 1,41 back though. :)

    • peacefulyorkshire March 5, 2010 at 9:24 am

      I just want to say that these stories you have shared, ladies, are so funny!! I have been enjoying reading them all week…. and about potatoes, gym memberships, passport lines, apples, tips on a cruise, jackets, tights……..! It’s the American way forward in Europe it seems…. hehe.

  9. jackie March 2, 2010 at 11:45 am

    …and it can be even worse with a real twang…raised in rural florida, i just get stared at a lot…and they just nod and smile when they don’t understand…i nod and smile a lot…even with my brit hubby after 8 years….though if someone irritates us a bit, i do have him saying ‘bye ya’ll!’ i’m an asperger, too and so i have to keep myself in tact when i am trying to check out a real red delicious….between the butts and boops of the 2 ladies in green who forget who is spending the money!!! yeah, a REAL big fan of online shopping!!! Mark keeps me in my cage a lot more now!!! smile

  10. Rebecca March 2, 2010 at 2:26 am

    The first time my husband witnessed this I think he was more than a little scared. It was on our honeymoon cruise. Apparently Brits are such notoriously bad tippers that the gratuities are automatically billed to your statements. I threw a fit because we hadn’t been eating in the dining room and I didn’t want to tip the waiters, etc if I never used them. The girl behind the counter had no idea what to do with me. She tried to explain what the tips were for and I bluntly told her that we Americans invented tipping so I knew more about it than she did!

    Eventually they removed the charges and gave me envelopes to tip whomever I wished. Meanwhile my husband was hiding behind a palm tree in the lobby area. We still laugh about that being his introduction to my “Americanism.”

  11. Almost American March 2, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Sigh! That makes me realize I really am more American than I think I am! I kicked up a big fuss about some tights (nylons) that I was buying at my local supermarket. I’d picked them up because they were clearly marked as being on sale, but they didn’t ring up that way. I stood my ground, someone went and checked, and returned to say, “The sale ended yesterday and someone forgot to take the sign down.” “Well, I don’t want them then” was my response and they let me have them at the sale price.

    The same thing happened when I was buying a jacket at an outlet store in Maine. Again, when I told them I didn’t want it at the higher price they sold it to me at the price I had thought it was.

  12. andrea March 2, 2010 at 12:03 am

    This happened to me once in my gym, and as I walked out I could feel all the eyes on me wondering why the American was freaking out. While it was not my finer moment there is no doubt that British customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

  13. Imen McDonnell March 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Love this. This still happens to me all the time here….I’ve gone quite lenient on a lot of things but customer service always kills me. We are so anal about it in the States…customer first etc etc that it just seems appalling here when no one cares!

  14. Michelle March 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    This made me smile!!

    Even after 20 years I still find those moments catch me out. I might not have caused a scene over the price of maxipads, I must admit ;) but I have done things where I pause, turn to my British hubby and say quietly ‘that was very American, wasn’t it?’ and he nods in confirmation then says ‘Hell Root Beer!’ in his most annoyingly twangy pseudo-American voice. I have no idea why ‘Hell Root Beer’ but its just his reply to all things overtly American.

    Sometimes, if he isn’t there to add his two pence (or his Hell Root Beer) I just make fun of myself and say ‘Oh My Gawd!’ in my own version of a twangy American accent (but, I quickly add, not my real or original accent) to let my friends know I am not taking myself too seriously.

    The Brits feel uncomfortable with Americans (or anyone, I suppose) who take themselves too seriously and the ability to make fun of one’s self can get one out of many a predicament, I guarantee!!

  15. Jenny March 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I was that person at the London Stansted Airport last week. My husband walked off he was so embarrassed. But no one told me to fill out the customs form when I got off the plane, and then there were no pens with which to fill them out. There was no line in the non-EU passports section, but I did have a security person come to see what was the problem. I admit I did over-react, but I certainly believe these people should have been more helpful to me. That’s what they’re paid to do, right?!

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