Five Ways I Revealed I Was an American Without Ever Opening My Mouth

I just spent ten days in the Scottish Highlands. Being an American, I obviously sound like one (although I did have one person mistake me for Australian, which was odd because Australian accents are far more similar to British accents than American), but beyond that there were apparently a myriad of other signs that exposed me as a tourist, without my ever opening my mouth.

In Scotland you can get wine in two sizes—175ml or 250ml. Since the Brits are known for their “Oh, I just couldn’t” stance when it comes to indulgences, I suspect that the “large” size is on the menu intentionally to establish which restaurant patrons are actually from the UK, and which are not. In fact, it may even be that the large is put there specifically to lure Americans into revealing themselves by ordering it.  But I’m sure I could have written “Chardonnay, please—large” on a sheet of paper and shown it to them (so as not to reveal myself through my accent) and the waitresses would have said to themselves, “Ah, American.”

Of course, even if I ordered a soda, as soon as they saw me pick up my knife and fork they’d spot me as a Yank. I use my left hand to cut my meat. Also, I don’t use my spoon for much of anything. The highway sign for dining options off of an exit in the US is a crossed fork and knife. The same indicator in the UK is a crossed fork and spoon. I saw more people doing creative things with their spoons while eating—using them as a sort of trowel to load food onto their forks— than I ever have in the States, where the spoon is mostly ignored unless one is eating soup or stirring coffee.

Americans aren’t much for the higher denominations of coin, either. We’re comfortable with everything up to the quarter, but anything beyond that we pretty much ignore. Therefore, Americans are always quick to pull out some ridiculously high value of paper money to pay for small purchases. The British for the most part make it easy—the larger the coin, the higher the value—but there are a few exceptions, like the 2p coin, which is almost as big as a 50p coin, but is round and copper, and the 20p coin, which is almost the same size as the 5p coin, but mostly big equals high. It’s just that as Americans, we’re used to having four coins from which to choose. The Brits have six, plus the one- and two-pound coin, for a total of eight. While usually circumspect and disinclined to engage in excess, the Brits have a shit ton of coins to choose from.

Of course probably the most famous US-UK differentiator is the “side of the road” driving distinction, in which each nation accuses the other of driving on the “wrong” side. Right or wrong, if you’re in the “other” country, it’s backwards for you. I got pretty good at remembering which side of the car was the passenger, and walking to it, instead of trying to get in the driver’s side, but every now and then I’d flub it, and my husband would say, “Wrong side.” There was no questioning my nationality at that point.

The final thing that apparently marked me as an American was one that would never have occurred to me. I was in a grocery store with my brother in law’s girlfriend (they were our traveling companions on this trip). The shop  had a single queue leading up to the multiple registers. We were looking at something near the end of the queue, but weren’t actually waiting in line just then. A red headed kid, about eight or nine, straight out of the Central Casting call for “Young Laddie from the Scottish Highlands” asked if we were in the line.

“No, we’re not,” we replied.

The kid gave us a skeptical look.

“Are you Americans?” he asked.

“Yes,” we told him, “How did you know?”

“You’ve got accents,” he said, “and you’re wearing sunglasses.”

The accents were a given, but the sun glasses? From that point on, I looked carefully at the people around me, and with the exception of a German woman I saw a day or so later, no one was wearing sunglasses, certainly not the locals. I happen to wear mine all the time. Even when the sun isn’t out, my eyes are very sensitive to light, so I wear them when it’s cloudy as well. But clearly they marked us as Americans.

I don’t really mind being singled out as an American. Other than the occasional individual who wanted to hold me personally responsible for every stupid thing that asshole Donald Trump has said in the last two months, and one grouchy train steward who seemed convinced that every Yank was just one “Howdy, partner” away from being The Ugly American, most people didn’t seem to care that we were Americans. After all, we were spending money and supporting their economy. Mostly they were quite nice to us, and willing to repeat themselves when we weren’t quite sure what they were saying. Which, I’m sad to say, was often, and probably marked us as Americans more than anything else.


kdcol said...

My husband's family is from Scotland and came to America when my husband was 6. When my in-laws come back to the states after a long visit, I can't understand a damn word they say. I've never been to Scotland. I suppose one day I should go. Pretty sure me being from Texas would be quite obvious to the locals, me with my twang and all. :-)

Kristine @Mumrevised said...

Spoon instaed of knife, just wrong.
Sunglasses... Who would have thunk it!
My favourite tourist spot that I didn't have to open my mouth was Beijing. I got physically manhandled into so many family photos with my green eyes and blonde hair i felt like a movie star!

Tracy said...

kdcol - Oh yes, open your mouth and you're totally revealed. I mean, they're very nice, but they know you're not from them thar parts :) I recommend Scotland. It's worth doing once, although I must say, I prefer England, myself (maybe don't tell your in laws that).

Kristine - Right? Sunglasses!?! We looked pretty much like everyone else in terms of coloring and features but we clearly weren't in Kansas, Toto!

Anonymous said...

I got mistaken for Australian across the pond too, and more than once. I found it amusing since UK dwellers can recognize and mimic almost any dialect within their own borders, but apparently a Canadian accent was just too exotic to figure out. I was also asked if I was Irish, or from Iceland. Yeah, I don't know either.

Tracy said...

Oh those exotic Canadian accents. And Iceland? I guess they would have some kind of a Nordic thing going, but I wouldn't have the first idea how to go about imitating it...