Nine New Things I Learned About Great Britain

Macaroni cheese, not macaroni and cheese.

This list was conceived shortly after my December 2019 trip to England, when I spotted some peculiarities about British life that had escaped my notice in earlier visits. I intended to post it after returning to the UK in late March 2020; that holiday never happened, thanks to the pandemic, but I've been ignoring the List of 9 for so long that I figured I might as well post it now. (Apologies, faithful reader: my enormous L.A. Street Names project, which will go live later this year, is taking up the portion of my brain once dedicated to the List of 9.) Anyway, here we go.

  1. At pubs and bars, you can buy a glass of wine in either a small or large size. This is brilliant for those who don't want to drink a lot, or who want to try more than one type of wine but don't want to dabble in "flights" or get drunk off several huge glasses. Pubs also offer beer in half-pint sizes, which is equally appreciated.
  2. The pornstar martini. A name so tacky it could only be American – and yet the pornstar martini is a solidly English phenomenon. It's a sickeningly sweet cocktail consisting of passion fruit juice mixed with vanilla vodka and lime. You will find it everywhere, or at least you could in late 2019.
  3. Pits in the martini olives. I admit with some shame that this is an alcohol-centric list. Allow me to explain. I have been to the UK about ten times over the years. But the bulk of those trips were between 1994 and 2002, when I did not yet drink. So this list is filled with things I only noticed in my last three trips, when I finally got to explore the pub life that I had previously avoided. At any rate, I don't like martinis, but my wife does, and she learned the hard way that the Brits do not remove the pits from their olives. Be warned.
  4. TK Maxx instead of TJ Maxx. Let's take a break from the booze and ponder just why it is that this chain of marked-down clothing stores is called "TK Maxx" in the UK and "TJ Maxx" in the US. I'm sure there's a reason, but for once I am too lazy to look it up. I prefer to remain mystified.
  5. Yours, mine, and ours. Here's a grammatical difference. Americans would never say "Come to mine" when they mean "Come to my place". But that's exactly how Britons put it: "I'll pick you up at yours", "we can have tea at ours", etc.
  6. DIY gin and tonics. Back to the bar we go for this un-American custom. Again, gin and tonics are my wife's thing, not mine. Regardless, order one in the States and the bartender will mix these two ingredients for you. In the UK, however, you will be given a glass of gin and ice and a can of tonic water, and you will be expected to mix them together to your desired taste.
  7. Macaroni cheese. I don't recall seeing this classic American dish on British menus in previous visits. It seems a relatively new trend over there. At any rate, we Yanks say "macaroni and cheese" – or, to be informal, "mac and cheese" – but the Limeys have deleted the "and" for some reason. "Macaroni cheese" is how it's written on their menus. I am reminded of how the Spanish say "gin tonic" instead of "gin and tonic", but we're done talking about that.
  8. You can tap your credit card to ride the Tube. So much time has passed since I first outlined this list that for all I know, public transport all over the U.S. now allows for this payment method. But I don't remember it when I went to London in 2013 or 2014, while it was accepted in 2019. I think about all the skimpy paper travel cards I used to purchase to ride the London Underground in the 1990s, and it seems so old-fashioned and quaint now. Why even bother purchasing a so-called "Oyster Card" when you can just tap your trusty MasterCard on the top of the turnstile and walk in? So convenient. I don't think they take American Express, though.
  9. Boozers. Of course I have to end this with more bar-related trivia. We Americans only know the word "boozer" as slang for a heavy drinker. ("His wife's a closet boozer.") Perhaps this usage is now outdated, but you'd more likely recognize that definition than you would the British definition of "boozer": a bar or pub. Note that I've only spotted this term in print, usually in writeups of drinking establishments (e.g., "The Dainty Duck is the only proper boozer on this quiet Islington street"); I don't know if everyday Brits use it in conversation.