Transatlantic Trouble: British and American English

Although British and American people technically speak the same language, there are lots of variations in the kinds of English we speak. Here we’ll talk about some of the differences we’ve experienced, focusing on both language and culture. Today we’ll talk about homes.

◆◆◆ She's so hom-proud! ◆◆◆

SAM says:

I heard an old British song on the radio the other day with the following lyrics: “Our mum, she’s so house-proud.” House-proud is a British adjective used to describe someone who spends a lot of time cleaning their home and believes that it is very important to keep a home looking its best. It reminded me of some of the different language used in reference to homes in the U.S. and U.K.

Sarah’s mother has been a housewife for many years, and always makes a point of saying she isn’t too house-proud. (she’s very traditionally British and doesn’t like to boast.) She likes to think of her house as a practical, lived-in home, often saying, “This isn’t a show home.” A show home to the Brits is what we’d call a model home in America. It’s the glamorous, high-end house used to demonstrate to potential home buyers what their newly built home could look like.

Like her mother, Sarah has no desire to live in a show home, and says that she likes the place she lives in to feel homely. In the U.K., homely is a positive adjective used to describe something as being simple, comfortable, warm or friendly, like many think a home should be. I laughed the first time Sarah told me this. In America the adjective homely is also used to describe a person who is very plain and ugly, so it sounds like a funny way to describe an ideal home.

SARAH says:

Talking of my family home — my parents live in a terraced house. This means that it is attached to houses on either side. It’s quite common to have houses like this in the U.K. — it saves space! In the U.S. they have the same kind of house but it’s known as a row home. I suppose that does make sense seeing as they are lined up in a row!

Of course, some people prefer not to have neighbours on both sides. My aunt and uncle live a few streets away from my parents in a semi-detached house. This means that they only share one wall with their neighbours, and the other side of the house is detached. In the U.S. this kind of house is called a twin. There may be more space for a garden, or as they’d say here in the States — a yard.

When I was a child I used to love this little cottage in the area I grew up in. It was special because there aren’t many cottages in Bristol, as these small houses are usually found in the countryside. They are traditionally made of stone and have special thatched straw roofs. They look very pretty! In the U.S. they also have cottages, but they are more like simple holiday homes, often used as a summer home or a weekend getaway from the city. I wish we had a cottage in upstate New York so we could escape the hustle and bustle of the city sometimes!

* * *

Sam and Sarah Greet have been teaching English and travelling the world together for nine years. Sarah is from Bristol in the southwest of England, and Sam is from the U.S. city of Philadelphia. Despite being together as a couple for many years, they are always finding differences in the way they speak.

*These views are their own, and not those of the British Council.

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We offer practical English lessons for adults in Iidabashi and Ikebukuro in Tokyo, and Osaka.

For more information, please visit British Council


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