Transatlantic Romance: A Field Guide to Dating a Brit

This is a guest post by Sarah Tyler.

For a person who had always been very passionate about British culture, I was surprisingly unprepared for the experience of dating a Brit. Sure, I knew my pasty from my ploughman’s and had enough pop culture facts to win even the most difficult pub quiz, but as it turned out, a successful intercultural relationship required more than this type of understanding about Britain. I think Americans have a tendency to view the British as extended family members who merely speak in a different accent, underestimating how large the cultural gap between our two societies really is.

As an anglophile, I seem to have been subconsciously drawn to British men like a moth to the flames, and those experiences have taught me a lot about British culture and myself. Looking back on those relationships, things would have gone a lot smoother if I had been aware of certain cultural differences. It is impossible and inaccurate to classify a richly diverse nation of people into a handful of stereotypical mannerisms; however my experiences have taught me that there seem to be certain fundamental differences that would have made my life easier if I would have understood them in advance.

One of the areas of difference between my American culture and that of my British counterpart’s was our attitudes about health and wellness. I had grown up being coddled by people when I was sick and had developed the understanding that an important way to show you care about someone is to look after them when they’re feeling under the weather. However, the Brits seemed to always downplay their illnesses and didn’t feel that something like a case of the flu was worth fussing over. In a situation where I would seek help or sympathy, they usually preferred to go on with their lives as normally as possible and trust it would get better on its own.  In the long run I think being around this attitude was a big benefit for me – it has helped me to carry on strongly when situations were less than desirable.  However, at the time it was difficult for me to recognize that people have different outlooks and ways of showing affection. It took awhile to understand that if I received a little tough love from an British boyfriend when I was sick, it wasn’t because he didn’t care enough about me, it was that he had a completely different cultural perspective on how to act in that situation.

Something that was not nearly as detrimental to my relationships but that took some getting used to was the British drinking and pub culture. Coming from a family who never drank or kept alcohol in the house, it was really surprising to me to see what an important social role the pub plays in British life, and how frequently my boyfriend would want to go there! In the small, rural town that I’m from, bars have something of a negative connotation attached to them. They are nothing like British pubs, which are frequented by the entire community and are a vital aspect of social interaction. In America, for example, many people prefer to watch important sporting events at home, where they can throw a private party with their friends and family. However, in England it can be very expensive to purchase the networks that broadcast these events so instead everyone will go to watch the football match at the pub. If you are dating a British person, chances are good that the pub will become an important fixture in your life. I grew to really love my local, it offered so much more than the bars back home. Delicious, cheap coffee and lunches, fun quiz nights and sports matches – it was a great place to relax and unwind after a long day. I soon came to appreciate it just as much as my fellow Brits, and understood why my boyfriend ascribed so much value to it.

One really great thing about dating someone who is from Britain is that you get to learn about a new culture and you also get to see your own culture from a different perspective. Any new relationship is exciting but if you are dating a Brit, everything becomes exciting. From something as simple as the different ways you pronounce words to learning about new music, TV shows and stores – an intercultural relationship gives you so much to share with someone. However, it’s very easy to get caught up in these aspects and to overlook larger issues of compatibility. If you are going to date someone from Britain, you need to make sure you are prepared to encounter many misunderstandings and cultural differences, and that you are also prepared to change your perspective on the world. If you’re up to the challenge, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Sarah Tyler is a lifelong anglophile currently completing her bachelor’s degree and plotting her big move across the pond. 

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  1. avatarSusan Hunter says

    I am married to a British man and what you say, particularly regarding the way illness is addressed is very true. They (men) just want to get on with it.

    On the other hand, I’ve always loved pubs, being a confirmed Anglophile myself :>)

  2. avatarPam says

    I have always wanted to date a Brit! I think even just meeting one would be an incredible experience! Thanks for the post!!

  3. avatarChristine says

    My fiance is british and I came down with the flu last week just before we were leaving England on our last trip. He went to the pharmacy and got me tissues, cough syrup, nyquil, tucked me into bed, made chicken soup, and even took my cat to the vet appointmentI had scheduled so she wouldn’t miss it. He’s not one for football (either kind) or beer, though we did go down to the pubs for lunch or ciders with friends.
    This article states “It is impossible and inaccurate to classify a richly diverse nation of people into a handful of stereotypical mannerisms; however…” And then went on do to just that.

  4. avatarSusannah says

    And Christine just disproves a SECOND stereotype! Evidently not all British men like women with a sense of humour!

  5. avatarSam says

    I have to agree with Christine – my husband is British and we both live in America now (2 years). He does not like football, rarely touches alcohol & never likes to go to Pubs unless it’s for lunch. Recently I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that leaves me in constant pain & exhaustion and no husband could be more supportive. He will tell ME when to lay down, brings my tea, runs my bath, cooks dinner – even changes the litter box! (Sorry Ladies, he’s taken!!) He does it all like second nature. While I love reading articles here, I really couldn’t identify with this one.

  6. avatarStacy says

    My Fiance` is English and I developed the ‘flu last time we visited London for his parent’s 60th anniversary. I went to the doctor who told me “to sip tea and take some paracetamol (like naproxim sodium in the US) and that was it! My fiance` is more doting than that, but it is a cultural thing. I’m Canadian, so most of the vocabulary is familiar to me – I wore nappies as a baby, my Grandfather still called the trunk of a car a boot when he was in his 90’s- and one of our first conversations consisted of all the English chocolate bars we loved and missed!
    ( we both live in the states now, but English chocolate is far superior to anything in America – sorry!). I love Englishmen in general, but when my fiance` says “strawberries” in his proper BBC newscaster accent, I tingle allover! LOL!

  7. avatarLisa says

    Maybe the “man flu” is a Northern thing, but when my husband and the men I know come down with the flu they act like they are on their death bed. I’ve been here for three winters now and I found quite the opposite about how people up here deal with sickness. If they get the flu they go to the doctor (something I would never do, since there is nothing they can do about it) and men particularly moan constantly (unless there is a football match they want to go to, in which case they are often miraculously cured). There has actually been a pretty big campaign launched by the NHS to encourage people NOT to go to their GP with the flu because so much time is wasted with people coming to their GP for the flu.

    I don’t really think its a cultural difference that can be divided down the lines of British/American and really depends on the family or town you grew up in and can vary a lot throughout the UK and the US.

  8. avatarLilith says

    Both my ex and my fiance are English, and neither of them are interested in pub life. Maybe this is a London phenonemon. My friends up North love pub life. My ex did just carry on through flu and such (with a little Lemsip), but my fiance adores the coddling. Londoners are very different to each other, it seems. Looking forward to m transatlantic move!

  9. avatarMatthew says

    I am English I am from a city called Stoke-On-Trent. but have lived all over the country but currently in London. There is a stereotype that exists between the north(counted as just above London- Watford) and south (anyone from below Watford). The north is portrayed as containing hard working class heroes who live in squalor and the south weak, wimpy, pretentious snobs. This is mostly tongue in cheek sense of humour. I feel both heavily use pubs but since the smoking ban in pubs a lot have closed, people would rather get some beers in from the shops and save a lot of money. I used to live in a town called Spalding with a population of 10,000 and 52 pubs. Indictment of drinking culture? I think so.
    I don’t particularly agree with the ‘get on with things’ stuff when ill, some do, some don’t, (I don’t but then again I am working class hero from the north you see). However i think it is all relative to the U.S. system. My girlfriend is from Chicago, and from numerous conversations about the cultural differences, I feel that the U.S. wraps their children in cotton wool; psychiatrists and the use of ritalin in hyperactive children as examples, seem to take precedent over the natural development of children. Whereas here discipline seems to take a higher role and an attitude of ‘they will grow out of it’