Claire Bolden McGillWhen we arrived in the USA, my son, Harry, was four years old, nearly five. When we return to the UK next year, he will be will seven years old, nearly eight. That’s a lot of growing up in three years whatever side of the pond you are on, but to be faced with an entirely different culture and school system has been challenging.

It’s been 21 years since I last attended school in the UK, so I’m presuming that British schools, particularly primary ones, have changed a lot in that time. Therefore, I don’t have a valid point of reference when I make comparisons between British and U.S. schooling, but there are some pretty obvious ones like recess, erasers and spelling certain words without a ‘u’.

The things we, as parents, feel inadequate with at times are the cultural references, particularly with American history (notably when we were asked to learn a song about George Washington with our son about how he kicked out the Brits 😉 ), and, on a more serious note, the curriculum within the education system. There is a difference in the way of teaching and in the levels of attainment between the UK and the USA at this stage, and, whilst the schools in Howard County, where we live are great, from what I’ve seen happening with Harry’s peers back home, the teaching and curriculum here fall a little short of that which is available in the UK.

Which means that when Harry returns to the UK, he’ll have some catching up to do, and we’re helping with that, but in the meantime, Harry’s expat life is all about the experience of being abroad, embracing a new way of life and culture, and making some American friendships that will feature in his life far beyond our immediate return to British shores.

I’m happy to say that it’s really the amusing things which resonate with us. Just the other day, my son came home, declaring that what came out of volcanoes was called ‘lovva’. ‘Ah, lava!’ I replied. He was adamant it was called ‘lovva’. We agreed that this was a difference in the way Americans on the East Coast and Brits pronounce things. It was made clear to me that his teacher has a particular style of pronunciation when, the next day, my son announced that his teacher’s real name was ‘Tosha’. ‘I think you’ll find she’s called Tasha,’ I corrected. ‘No, it’s definitely Tosha,’ he replied and I guess, as far as pronunciation goes, she knows her own name!

Many of the incidents we encounter with differences between us we explain with ‘One way is not right, and one way is not wrong, they’re just different.’

For example, these are just some of the amusing little quips my young son has come up with:

  1. If Americans spell ‘mummy’ like ‘mommy’, do they spell ‘tummy’ like ‘tommy’?”
  2. ‘Mummy, why don’t Americans have a very good sense of humour? Should I say poop instead of poo when I tell a poo joke and then they’ll get it?’
  3. ‘Why can’t I run round the house naked? Don’t they like British willies?’
  4. ‘Why do they run with the ball in football here? Isn’t that rugby?’
  5. ‘Mummy, is it the first day of Spring?’

‘Yes, it’s supposed to be.’

‘Well is it or isn’t it?’

‘Yes, apparently so.’

[Sigh] ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ll ask an American grown up.’
  6. Passing the time with some transatlantic fart chat with Harry.
    Me: ‘What do they call farts at school, then?’
    Harry: ‘They call them pumps.’
    Me: ‘Hahaha! So when you do a fart, do you say “Ooh, I’ve just done a pump.”?’
    Harry: ‘No, I say Arjun’s just done a pump, because he sits next to me.’
  7. Harry tried hard to get his head round British vs American humour…
    ‘Can I write “I think you’re really smelly” in my Valentines cards for my class [yes, he has to give ALL the class a card, even though he really only fancies one of the girls], and then on the back write “You’re actually really lovely and I love you”?’

    Um, probably not the best idea.

’Oh, why not?’ [Big sigh]. ‘Is that because the Americans won’t get it? Is the British sense of humour normal and the American one isn’t?’

    No….there are differences in our senses of humour, but I just don’t think your teacher will find that very funny if you write that for everyone.

’They don’t even find it funny when I take my pants down….’
  8. Me: ‘Don’t undercut me, I’m changing lanes, dick.’
    Harry: ‘There are a lot of drivers called Dick in America, aren’t there, mummy?’
  9. ‘Mummy, I am a pilgrim and Rohan [boy at school] is a hippy.

‘Oh really, why is that?’

    Because I came from England to America, which makes me a pilgrim, and Rohan doesn’t eat meat, so that makes him a hippy…..’
  10. ‘Sigh, why do all Americans think I’m named after Harry Potter or Prince Harry? I’m just Harry. Would they ask me that in England? I think I would like to be called Albert.’

But you know, Harry has embraced America, much like we have. Whilst he is definitely a British kid who speaks with a British accent in the USA, and I feel his heart and head are British, he is in a fantastic position to take these experiences and use them in later life, to become more open to opportunities, to be less judgmental in his outlook, and I know that he will always have a fond place in his heart for all things Americana.

In fact, he even declared, with unwitting irony, on 4th July during the Independence Day celebration we were attending, that: ‘’I wish everyone could come to America because lots of good things happen to you like parades and outdoor movies at the pool and the mall, and when good things happen to you then you would be happy all the time…….”. 😉

True, young Harry, very true.

Claire Bolden McGillClaire Bolden McGill

Claire Bolden McGill is a British mother living and raising her British son, Harry, in the United States. Follow her blog: A blog that acts as an observational commentary on the amusing, confusing and cultural differences between Brits and Americans. Claire is a Certified Nutritionist and Weight Management Consultant

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