Monday, August 4, 2008

A little taste of BritishSpeak: the book

BritishSpeak the web site has been up and running since March. The purpose was to gather information about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the United Kingdom (and some other British-influenced countries around the world.) The idea was to organize this information into a book which would be both interesting and useful to Americans, especially those Americans contemplating travel there. 

You have told me many things and at the same time I have been digging up information behind the scenes. It occurred to me that it might be fun to share some of the things I've found out. The editing of the book is far from over, but what follows is a sampling of some of the facts and tidbits taken at random from various sections of the book. There is much more, and I will share more over the coming weeks. We'll start with some of the top questions Americans seem to have about the UK.

1. Can I work in Britain?
2. Is my U.S. driver's license valid in the UK?
3. What is Britain's most popular meal?
4. I have a British friend who's done something really extraordinary. How does one go about getting a congratulatory message from The Queen?
5. How do the British celebrate Christmas?
6. What is Burns Night?
7. Can I get married in Britain?
8. Can I buy or rent real estate in Britain?

Step right up and get your answers right here!

The book contains answers that are much more in-depth than the ones shown here, but the shortened versions are:

1. Why yes! But you must acquire a work permit. And you must acquire it BEFORE you enter the country for the purpose of working there. And you may not apply for the permit yourself — only the British company you intend to work for can apply for the permit. It's not quite so easy as I'm making it sound. Hint: before the process is over you will get to know and love something called the "UK Border Agency." It is ever so much fun. It will take more than a couple of hours.

2. Yes. You can drive cars and light trucks in the UK for up to 12 months. If you stay longer, you must test for and obtain a British license during that first 12 months. Remember that all the details and stipulations are not given in these short answers.

3. Curry is the most popular dish as this is being written. Fish and Chips is still very popular and has been since the end of the 19th century. Perhaps the most popular traditional British dish is roast beef (with roast potatoes and gravy) - and is also frequently accompanied by Yorkshire Pudding, of course.  Curry is available at specialty (Indian) restaurants in the U.S., although it is hardly the most popular dish in the country.

4. Just like in the U.S. where you can get a congratulatory card/message from the White House for certain anniversaries and the like, so too can you get congratulations from The Queen in the UK. In both cases the list of qualifying things is pretty limited, to such things as a 100th birthday or a 75th wedding anniversary, etc. The Palace will require proof of age of the recipient, or whatever. Request the Queen's message by sending a letter to the Palace. I have always suspected that the President's signature is done by a machine. Don't know about the Queen's signature. Suspect the same.

5. Christmas is the most popular holiday in both countries and is celebrated basically the same, with Christmas trees and presents and so forth. But there are some things commonly done in the UK that are not part of the U.S. Christmas customs. For example, something called pantomimes are popular around Christmas time in Britain, featuring the children. Of course there are Christmas "plays" or "pageants" in the U.S., but today, in the U.S. Public Schools, one doesn't celebrate Christmas. Jesus' name must never be mentioned. It is now a "Winter Festival". Oi.

6. Burns Night is not something you see in the U.S. It is a celebration of the famous poet Robert Burns' birthday. It has been celebrated for more than 200 years. It is a special dinner, held in homes, halls, and pubs. A prayer written by Burns is recited and haggis is served. In the full ceremony, a piper will lead the chef in. Other traditional foods are served. The ceremony is very ritualized, with other works of Burns being recited by the chairman at specific times. I can't think of anything at all like that in the U.S., save fraternity rituals.

7. Anyone can get married just about anywhere in the world — as long as they meet the requirements. In the UK, it's pretty much the same as in the U.S. — age, proof of identity, no sons marrying their mothers. Things like that. They are not really concerned with your citizenship. So sure. Why not?

8. Americans are permitted to rent or purchase property in the United Kingdom.


  1. Hello,
    Why Max, it seems like you do know a thing or 2 after all.

  2. Max is learning...

    I get more and more interested to what the book will be like when finished.

  3. Me too, I can't wait till its done and we get to see it.

  4. Hey Caroline. Hey Alison. I am having more fun with it the more I write. My problem is what to leave out so it won't be too big. I have too many notes. ;)

    You guys are just saying that because you know your copies will be free. Heh.

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  6. Americans wanting to be married in the UK, unless they have been resident for 2 years or more, must prove they are of sound mind. Harder for some people than others :)
    I think you're safe then Max

    Amazing though that you don't have Burns Nights in the States. They even have them in France.

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  8. Sorry- corrected version here.

    Burns night?
    What the hell's that?

    We do not have Burns Night in Yorkshire, so far as I know, we assume it is a celebration for persons of a Scottish leaning.
    In the city of York it is still perfectly legal to shoot, with your crossbow, or longbow any scurrilous scotsman you find within the city walls after curfew.



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