British people are fascinated by American high school cliques – “What group would I have been in?”

Posted on February 9, 2011 by yankeebean


Ok, it’s happened enough times now that it warrants a blog post.  I was a choir practice at my church the other day, sitting next to a girl who’s in her final year of GCSE’s (the equivalent of being a sophomore in high school).  During the break she came up and said,

“Y’know high school?  Do people really separate into groups like in the movies?”  She said this with a giddy excitement, clearly dying for me to say ‘yes’.

Well she was in luck, cos I did say ‘yes’, and she got really excited (well, as excited as a 16 year old girls lets herself get).  I also told her that the best description of the different cliques I’d seen was in the movie Mean Girls – it was the only movie that went into such specific detail about how niche they can be.  It’s by no means a complete list, but it hints at it…

I said all this while she smiled and flapped quietly and 16-excitedly.  And then she dropped the bomb…

“What group do you think I would have been in?”

CRAP, I knew this was going to happen… do any of you lovely American expats get this?  It’s like being instantly transported back to high school for a moment.  You have to remember all the secret rules and socialla warefare involved in just surviving.  And then you have to judge a person by those bollock-y rules that don’t matter (at least as much) any more.  Tttthhhbpbpbpbpttttt…

But let’s face it.  There can only be one answer to this question when you’re talking to a 16 year girl who’s nice and sits next to you in choir.

I told her she’d probably be a popular kid because she was cute and friendly (and English, can’t get enough of that accent over there).  She was very very very happy…

So I guess it ended well, but this is the third time someone has asked me about the cliques in high school and then asked what they would’ve been.  I’m starting to wonder if I need a standard answer that I can whip out without having to think or have high school flashbacks.  Something witty and ironic… the Brits would like that : ).  Any ideas?


I was telling Mr Nice Guy about this and he said, “I know exactly what I would’ve been.  I would’ve been a Scrabble Jock.”  :D  I said he would’ve been the only one, but that I would’ve fancied him for it…

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Hassan Bulkari June 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    This is so true. This is exactly what my cousin asked me when he came from England.

  2. Yorkshire Yank February 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    @Sarah, I went to a large school too, so maybe school size is more important. If you are in a school with 1000+ students, you don’t have to worry about fitting in with one group. If you don’t get along with one group of people, you’ll find another group that you do get along with.

    There also isn’t really any such thing as a “popular crowd”. Someone may be popular among a group of students, but there are probably hundreds of students who have never even heard of them. My high school yearbook has pictures of students I don’t remember ever seeing. I’m sure there are many people who would never remember me.

    Ironically, the most stereotypically Hollywood movie high-school cliquish behaviour that I have ever encountered has come from adult British women hear in the UK. I wonder if it is because I’ve moved to a much smaller city and these women will probably have gone to much smaller schools, where that type of behavior is natural.

    One of many examples – I was at the pub with British husband and a group of British men and women a couple of weeks ago. Two women sitting next to me (who I have known for a long time) turned away from me and started whispering, having a long, private conversation while I’m sitting right there. One of them even holds up a wine glass next to her face to separate me from her to make sure I can’t overhear the conversation. My husband said later that he was very upset by the way they treated me. I was surprised that he noticed it; I’ve become so used to this behaviour from British women that I’ve started to take it for granted.

  3. GingerGirl February 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I always get this question, and it’s always really disappointing for the asker because I happened to go to an all girls school- though this certainly opens up a fair share of questions. People also really like to ask about my experience in a sorority like @Kristin said. Lots of people know what its like (thanks Legally Blonde opening in the West End!) and some don’t but once you try to explain it they want to know everything….and then say how strange it is! Although I fully admit, the concept of a sleeping porch would sound strange to anyone.

  4. Victoria February 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    @yankeebean – Yes, facebook page would be the coolest! More banter, post pictures, videos, links all those good things. Would be good networking too for a lot of the 10,000+ SNFY ppl (caught that somewhere on here). I don’t do twitter, but everyone and their mother it seems is on FB.

    @sarah – Thanks for answering. Yes I too have perceived a bit of less than enthusiastic service or rudeness but like to think that it was more likely the person was just having a bad day. Once in London a guy came up and started talking to me and when I said something back he responded “I don’t like Americans. Bye!” and at this massive party called “Church” ( everyone booed USA but I think were just taking the piss out of us… oh yeah, also a friend of mine was denied entry at the Walkabout, Shepard’s Bush, which was strange considering we’d been there the day before with some Aussie friends but didn’t talk to the doorman that time. She wasn’t drunk, so that isn’t why, but she was alone I think. I do realize those two places are predominately Aussie/Kiwi/South African party spots, so doesn’t exactly reflect on the British either.

    I think maybe some Londoners get a bad impression of Americans because of all the tourists they see and deal with, the ones whom fit their bad stereotypes… probably has something to do with it, such as some loud ones with bad fashions, no manners, thick-headed, fat, much more. Leaves a bad taste I’m sure. I’ve noticed I get a lot more interest, kindness or neutral treatment outside of that city, the further away the better, such as in Plymouth or Wales. Have had nothing but friendly encounters there.

    There’s a lot of creeps on the loose in London as well, I won’t even go anywhere alone at night or to the clubs. Reason being I’ve been groped by discusting men a few times randomly. Have to watch out for unlicensed taxi drivers, I know a girl that got beaten and nearly raped by one b/c she was alone, night time and she didn’t bother to make sure he was a legit driver. Best thing is to go out in a huge group or at least with a man incase there IS a nasty pervert. Ewww and don’t even get me started on getting the black snot after being there a day. That city has got some fantastic attractions, yes, but it’s so scummy!

    Well, since I’m commenting on the cliques page… no one’s ever asked me which one they’d be but I’m sure could answer it if happens. Most of the schools in California are just like Mean Girls. But I run with the rockers pretty much, that’s a fairly universal worldwide large group, so the English people at the metal show I meet don’t need me to tell them where they stand. What I find hilarious are the chavs. I guess the equivalent here would perhaps be “wiggers” (I’ve asked African-Americans if this is offensive to them, they say no btw) or “guidos” possibly from Jersey or Miami. Maybe even “trailer trash” ? Hard to say what a chavvy person is in America. Anyone?

    Peace out – Victoria

  5. sarah February 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    That’s funny, because I always tell them that it isn’t like it is in the movies and it’s just Hollywood because I had such a different experience. More like Yorkshire Yank, where yes there were groups of friends but no one popular group and people were often in a couple different ‘groups’. I did have that in junior high, but I guess I figured we grew out of it or something. We were in a pretty lower middle class area (in the American sense of the word) and had a big school (2200) so maybe that affected it.

    @Victoria, sometimes I wonder if people are less helpful to me because of the accent. Usually it’s when they claim they never do X when I know they do bc I have (or English husband has) had that service from their location before. But I could just as easily jump to the conclusion it’s because I’m a woman because in most cases it was men, etc etc. So really it’s probably just my imagination and if I really wanted to find discrimination I probably could make a case, but really it’s probably just that I’m cranky because they won’t slice my tiger bread. All in all, you get some very friendly people, some nasty people and lots of people in between, just like anywhere.

  6. yankeebean February 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    @Katie I know exactly what you mean about the eye-rolling. I only met Peaceful Yorkshire because both our English men thought we should meet because we’re both American (even though she’s from New Mexico and I’m from Chicago) – glad you stopped by!!

    @Victoria – very very very intrigued about having a Facebook group. I’ll talk to Peaceful Yorkshire and keep you posted! Also, I feel a post coming on about getting employed here – watch this space…

  7. Victoria February 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Hi there! Another newbie reader here of this awesome blog, right up my alley. Way to do it, keep up the good work. I can relate on sooo many levels to what y’all write about… I’m not yet an expat but it’s in the works. Married to a great guy from Plymouth and I tell my friends in America who seem as fed up with the men here as I was “Once you go European you don’t go back!” LOL

    I found it to be really amusing that you have the nicknames for your guys, the Mr. _____s, within 2 weeks of meeting mine I’d started calling him “Mr. Funny” and even got him a keychain that says it. I’m “Magpie” Gosh I miss those silly birds and the hedgehogs…

    Anyway, I’m curious about the writers and readers here who’ve successfully emigrated to GB and found employment on a spouse visa. Anything here on the topic, such as what kind of work, income, how long it took before getting hired, does the rule apply to visa holders married to british that citizens then EU ppl get first dibs and also has anyone suspected or faced discrimination b/c American???

    I too find it very difficult to find net information on hairdressing/cosmetology licensing in England, such as if a California one or the 1600 hours in training can be transferred over. Oh goodness, and how to go about bringing pet parrots over! Much to learn here, save up for, this is why I’m not living over the pond yet.

    Well, looking forward to more posts, haven’t been addicted to a blog ever but now methinks I am. You insightful and witty ladies ought to consider starting a facebook group for us!

    Until next time – Victoria

  8. Katie February 10, 2011 at 6:10 am

    So my boyfriend stumbled upon this blog the other day as he is a Yorkshire man( Sheffield to be exact, great city) and I am his American lady. We were actually looking up fiancée visa stuff when he found this and told me to read it… it wasn’t without an eye roll, but I did come to read it and I’m so glad I did! You’ll have to excuse my eye roll, it was really nothing personal, I’m sure you know how frustrating the whole fiancée visa business is.

    This is a fantastic blog and I am so happy to know that there are other women out there experiencing the same things. SO keep writing because I am loving reading!

  9. yankeebean February 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    My experience of cliques was just like in the movies – jocks ran together, geeks, theatre kids, stoners, outcasts, band kids, yada yada. There was some bleed between the groups, but not much – we all knew our places.

    My high school was about an hour outside of Chicago and a lot of rich kids went there, maybe that had something to do with it. In fact, the Mean Girls high school is REALLY close to my high school…

    I’m glad some people didn’t have uber clique high schools – it gives me hope for humanity : )

  10. rachael February 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    I’ve just finished writing a post of my own about this. I get it all the time. Often from strangers, which is odd as this is England. I’m not so kind as you are. I tell them those things happen, but the bullies never get their comeuppances and the bullied often end up as miserable as they do here. What was I? Oh, a giant loser. I do have a tendency to tell people that they would have been a rah rah girl, or class president, or a jock.

  11. jenny February 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    yeah, I’ve had this conversation with my boyfriend as well, lol. I think we both determined that we had very similar experiences at that age…kids are kids and i’m not sure there is anything geographical about it at all. Sometimes they can be mean, but overall its natural to gravitate to people with your same interests and activities. Like Yorkshire Yank said, there were certainly groups of people with similar interests in HS, science geeks and band geeks and jocks and such, but I also never felt that I was intentionally shut out of a group or stereotyped because I didn’t share those interests or simply because the people in the group didn’t like me. Or whatever. I never felt there were any unwritten social “rules” I needed to know in order to survive HS. Everyone got along just fine, even with people who might have been “outside” our immediate social group.

    However, I can certainly imagine cliques existing somewhere, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily limited to America, either.

  12. Yorkshire Yank February 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    My DH has commented on this, and I have tried to explain to him that life in the US (at least in my experience) is not like life in the movies.

    Yes, there were groups of people who hung out together because of similar interests, but I never had the high school movie experience of everyone vying for acceptance at the popular kid’s lunch table, or of people being stereotyped as the smart kid, the jock, the popular girl, etc.

    I was a science geek so I sometimes hung out with other science geeks to talk about science classes and science stuff. I also did drama so I hung out with drama people sometimes, and I wrote so I hung out with creative writing people also. Some of the brainy kids were also cheerleaders or jocks.

    Maybe it depends on the high school. I went to an inner city public high school.

  13. Kristin February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    This is hilarous…I get this all the time. Although it’s usually followed by “Were you a cheerleader?” And I have to disappoint them and say no, but I was in a sorority. Then the talk turns to “Did you have pillowfights in your underwear all the time?”

    You could tell her she’d be homecoming queen, captain of the cheerleaders, and Queen Bee. Make her feel good. Or, be realistic: You might be adorable, but you have an accent so nobody would understand you, and the popular girls would be jealous, and the cute boys would have a contest to try to get to first base. If you survived that, you might get to sit at the cool kids’ table at lunch and they might give you a can of Natural Light before the Friday night football game.

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