Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten British-isms I now do (and American expats probably do!)

I have now lived abroad, away from my home of Illinois, for three years. I spent almost a year in France and a little over two in Hong Kong. I think American accents are the most influenced and malleable of all English accents, and the Midwest accent especially. When I was in high school, I was invited to attend the National Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. (yes, I was one of those kids, and I loved every minute of it!). I roomed with a girl from North Carolina and became close with her and two other girls from southern Ohio and Louisiana. By the time I came back to northern Illinois, all my friends kept making fun of my “southern accent” and how I spoke. After just a week I was influenced that much!

Imagine how I sound after three years?! My first year in Hong Kong I had the privilege of living with an awesome English gal (see what I did there?) named Bekie! While she now says, “like” more than she used to (soooo American!) living with her, plus changing the way I speak to teach English has totally transformed my accent. My dad and sister love to make fun of my accent now, and every little thing I say at home gets criticized. I feel like I am in this weird bubble where I am not exactly “American” but sure as heck ain’t “British.”  What do we call this new accent? Britican? Amerish? Expat English? Here are my top ten British-isms that I do since living abroad. (This is in no particular order.)

10. Have you…?
Ugh, this one annoys me the most. While I don’t say “Have you got…?” questions thankfully (it sounds so improper to me!) I do tend to say things like, “Have you seen it yet?” Americans don’t say it like this. We say, “Did you see it yet?” This is one of the biggest things that differentiate Americans and Brits is their question formation and responses. No, it isn’t I haven’t got a brother, it is I DO NOT have a brother!

9. Air-con
So, as I was training a group of new teachers the other day I said the word “air-con” and an American guy giggled and said, “You said air-con. That is so British.” I stopped and thought about it – and it blew my mind (hehe pun intended). We say “air-conditioning” in the U.S.A. never, ever “air-con,” but I now CANNOT say “air-conditioning.” Aiya!

8. Proper
Ok, Brits. You win with this one. I cannot think of a word in “American English” that suffices as much as “proper,” as in “I want a proper sandwich.” It is even hard to explain, but it properly gets the job done.

7. Whilst
Dang it, I love this one too! Two years ago when I was writing my biography for the Monkey Tree website, my lovely Scottish friend and co-worker Krissi was reading over it and said , “Eckk!” (a favorite sound of mine that Scots make!) “You need to use whilst! You don’t use while.” Obviously, Americans NEVER use whilst (that I know of), but I loved the sound of it! Ever since, I have been using “whilst.”  You may have noticed my usage of it whilst perusing my blog.

6. Cheeky
Alright, another good one! This is a perfect way to describe some of my students friends! Such cheeky monkeys. Anyone want to grab a few cheeky beers?

5. Rubbish bin
AIYA! I am not proud of this one. It is NOT rubbish, it is TRASH. It isn’t a RUBBISH BIN, it is the GARBAGE. However, seeing as every single one of my students say “rubbish” and look so confused when I say “trash” or “garbage,” I am fighting a losing battle. 🙁

4. Full stop
What is a full stop? Well it is a . . No, I didn’t leave you hanging, a full stop means a period (cue laughing from British friends.) I mean the punctuation period obviously! This was soooo hard for me at first, because I would tell my students “Don’t forget the period!” and again, would have blank stares. I have now adapted and can’t say anything but “full stop.”. I have had plenty American friends back home ask me why I said, “yaddda yadda full stop.” Oy.

3. Rubber
Okay, I actually laughed out loud when I heard this for the first time. A “rubber” is an eraser, but did I know that? It means something completely different in the U.S.A. (May I direct you to Urban Dictionary?) so when a student asked my boss, “Do you have a rubber in your house?” and he responded, “Yes, I have rubbers in my house!” I was a bit gobsmacked at first (and giggling) until I realized what the student meant. Oops.

2. Takeaway
I will never forget the  time when I was ordering dumplings on the street and I kept saying, “To go, takeout.” and mimicking walking away with a bag to the woman and she looked so confused, and kept saying, “You take here!” and pointing at a seat. I was exasperated and exhausted after ten minutes going back and forth that I finally just sat down at the table she was pointing to. The same thing happened at McDonald’s the local eatery near my work the following day and I finally went back to work and asked my center manager how the heck I order food to go. She laughed and taught me in Chinese, so I promptly returned the next day and said it in Chinese. The woman screamed and said, “TAKEAWAY!” Oh…takeaway? Apparently they say “takeaway” in England (who knew?) and the minute I said takeaway every single restaurant understood. Come on, takeout is so close! Well needless to say, this is probably the first time I have said takeout  in two years.

1. My inflection
This is what my family makes fun of me the most. This is the hardest to translate into text, but the BIGGEST thing I have noticed about my accent. When I ask a question, I don’t say it how Americans do – I use British intonation. We totally ask questions differently. Americans start lower and rise at the end.  Brits start a bit higher go up  in the middle and then back down. I catch myself all the time (as does my family, thank you for that!) and I don’t think I will ever be able to stop myself again.

So while I might not be speaking like this, “Blimey! It’s ol’ ‘arry Po’er!” I definitely have picked up quite a bit a few British-isms that has mixed with my American accent for a weird melange-of-an-accent.


Have you moved to another city, state, or country and started to speak differently or incorporate their phrases and sounds into your own language? Let me know in the comments below!



  1. It was interesting to read. Yes, I was surprised when I spoke to a Frenchman, it his language was different from that one I’ve learned at the university 🙂 Thanks for the nice article

  2. These are so true, Erin! You did so many of these whilst you were home in July. Very witty.

  3. Oh man, I had these problems when I taught in France, and when I was au pairing in NZ (their accent is way [waaaaaaaaaaay] different but the majority of the words are British rather than American).
    The first time I had a lesson with 6emes in France and they were learning about like, you know, school items (my schoolbag, my pencil, etc) and one of them said, ” ‘ave you got a rubber?” I nearly burst out laughing. In the back of my mind I knew this word meant eraser, but I just couldn’t control myself lol. Oh and the “have you got” crap annoys me too.

    Also, my favorite non-American English word is bloody. As in “this is bloody awful” ITS THE PERFECT WORD FOR SO MANY THINGS. I cannot express enough my disappointment that bloody is not used in American English.

    Also, when I was younger, my accent itself was much more malleable. Now I fear I’m stuck with my Southern Drawl forever, but my mom used to always notice when I was younger if my cousins from Missouri came to visit I ended up sounding kinda midwestern for a week afterward, and once I went on a trip with some Canadians and ending up sounding a bit more northern eh. I have noticed now that my accent, while it’s still noticeably southern, it’s much more muted when I’m off traveling than when I’m at home. I sound like such a hillbilly when I’m home lol.

    • Haha that is great! Haven’t caught onto the “bloody!” yet, but maybe I will! I definitely think kids are much more impressionable and will change their accents. I had a student who was taught my a South African and to this day he says, “Yeah” like “Yaw” just like they do in S. Africa. Cracks me up 🙂

  4. You hit this spot on!! Do you remember how much trouble kids gave me at Carlson for some of the phrases I used?! I still keep saying TomaTOE and I keep trying to call the GPS the SatNav, and i still struggle with my pronunciation of pronunciation and garage. Needless to say I am completely in love with this post and it made me smile!

    • Haha! Adele, I was totally one of those that were making fun of you – and now I get it and I am sorry (although I will still call you out on Basil 😛 )! But, I truly understand where you get it from and can’t wait till we are back together and speak in full Britishisms 🙂

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