I sat in a leather barber chair in Bowling Green, KY and listened to the scissor snips. The barber casually chatted as he crafted.
“So, you’re about to graduate. What comes next?”
“Well I actually just got a paid internship.”
“Oh really? Doing what?”
“Media and communications for a program in England.”
“ENGLAND? You’re going to be British?”
“Yeah. I guess I am.”
That barber was the first person I told about Harlaxton besides my family and friends. It was the day I accepted the position and the day before I let the world know about it. It was also the first time I actually said I was moving to England.
And here I am… at the end of my internship with a lifetime of memories from the United Kingdom that I’ll be telling my grandkids (and my readers) about.
Along this journey, I somewhat jokingly and somewhat heartedly attached the hashtag #BrysonGoesBritish to most of my social media posts.
I added it jokingly because it sounds silly. I was well-aware that I wouldn’t fully become a Brit during my six months. However, I loved the phrase because when I go somewhere, I like to do as the people of that place. It helps blend in to avoid pesterers and pickpockets, but it also helps see the world through their perspective.
While I lived with mostly Americans and therefore remained true to my American behavior most of the time, I did a lot if interacting with locals and working with a few true Brits. So in a way, I became a little British. This is how.
Dressing the Part
Besides opening your mouth to produce words, clothes are the number one way British people can tell whether or not a person is American. So I often dressed the part.
Lots of sweaters. Lots of button downs. Joggers. Earth tones. Rain jackets. Patterns. Dress shoes. Casual styles. No graphics. Beanies. Scarves.
I have never put so much thought into my clothes in my life… but it worked.
There were a few times while in town or cities I visited that people asked for directions or about the tube system. It would always make me smile to see their reaction when I spoke.
Talking the Talk
I’ve had several people from home message me and ask if I had developed a British accent. While your natural accent might slightly fade, it’s almost impossible to completely change accents naturally. So, sorry. I don’t sound like Robert Pattinson.
Although I don’t have the accent, I have noticed the way I speak is different. I put emphasis on different parts of my sentences. After hearing Brits all around me slightly increase their pitch a word or two before the last word in the sentence, I have found myself doing the same.
I’ve also noticed that British people often phrase statements in the form of questions. Example… if there’s a brisk wind blowing outside, we Americans would say something like, “It’s cold outside,” or “Goodness, it’s cold,” or “Have mercy, I can’t feel my toes.”
A Brit would say, “It’s a bit chilly outside, isn’t it?”
Speaking of that, Brits love the word, “bit,” meaning a small amount of something. That’s obviously a word for Americans too, but I guarantee you’ll hear a British person say it at least once if you have a fifteen minute convo with them. All the following are correct ways to use it:
“I’m a bit tired.”
“I loved when you did that bit about history in the presentation.”
“Shall we sit for a bit?
And then there’s “Cheers.” It’s a form of “thank you.” It’s an email signature. It’s a goodbye. It’s a hope for wellness. It’s a way to say “HECK YES.” Doesn’t matter how you use it. Just use it and be more British.
The Words Themselves
There are several words that are spelled differently in the UK, which made written communication like a memory game for me. Colour. Honour. Centre. Favourite. Travelling. All a few common ones I had to change.
While people from the UK speak English too (I’ll pause to say that a lady from home asked me if I’d have to learn another language upon getting this position), there are some words in the UK that don’t mean the same thing as in the US. Allow me to enlighten you on a few common ones.
Car park…..parking lot
*You can imagine my look of disbelief when one of the British professors asked me for a rubber.
Keeping Calm and Munching
Like all types of food, there is British food that is scrumptious, there is British food that is good, there is British food that is meh, and there is British food that a dog wouldn’t eat. Most of my experiences with British food were meh, but they usually involved cafeteria food at Harlaxton so they are inaccurate representations. Actual British food is usually pretty good, except it is often a little bland. People don’t traditionally over-spice everything like in the US. However, I’m a sucker for a British Sunday roast, English breakfast, beef pie, cheese/onion pastry, and—of course—fish and chips.
I will say the Brits know their way around sweets, which of course go splendidly with a cup of tea. Carrot cakes, Bakewell tarts, lemon curds, sticky puddings, chocolate mousses, sugary biscuits, and on and on. Let’s not forget jaffa cakes—a perfect ratio of chocolate and orange zest that would make Mary Berry slap her mama.
About the Roundabouts
I would like to point out now that I managed to drive in England for six months without so much as running over a pheasant (although a few tried to commit suicide). How? Not sure, but I know that the first time I sat behind a steering wheel on the right side of the car, I felt like I was eating spaghetti with a spoon; it’s not impossible, but it feels weird. Couple that with being on the left side of the road. It was terrifying at first because I was doing something common, but in the complete opposite way I learned it.
I eventually got the hang of it and was rolling around Grantham in the college car at least once per week. Oh, by the way, when driving in England, you always have to park with the parking break on, most cars are tiny manuals, and there are unnecessary roundabouts every hundred yards or so. Fun times.
I got to experience a few events that were made special by living in the UK.
I rang in the new year by watching a firework show on The London Eye instead of a ball drop.
I listened to poetry and Scottish music on Burns night.
I witnessed the celebration surrounding the birth of Prince Louis Arthur Charles.
I celebrated Easter in a church where we popped confetti cannons.
I saw the country go mad with memorabilia around the time of Harry & Meghan’s wedding.
Just as I have my favorite celebrations, people in the UK have theirs too. It was an honor to take part in them.
And Lastly, The Scissor Snips
The first time I got a British haircut, I didn’t see a whole lot of differences in the way the barber was cutting my hair. I did, however, notice that the styling of my hair was… interesting. Including wax, a blow dryer, hairspray, combs, and fingertips, the man used 10 different instruments to style. The result? I looked like a member of a One Direction cover band. There was A LOT of poof going on. This happened every time I went to the barbershop.
My normal style in England was a happy medium between that and my style at home. I did this because British men put a lot of work into their hair, but I couldn’t fully commit to the Niall Horan look.
Each time I got a haircut, I thought back to that barber in Kentucky and how it was in his chair I started to think about life in England.
I also thought of how I was progressing and growing in my confidence while living in a different country. With each haircut, I thought of how living in the UK was fleeting so quickly.
So for six months, I was a sort-of-American and sort-of-British guy, living in the midlands of England and having the time of his life. But #BrysonWentBritish, and now it’s time for him to go back.