How to make nice and be Friends with the British

I had an email from a reader expressing her frustration at being an American expat. I was thrilled and touched, of course, so I emailed her back. She had questions. She was also a bit confused about not having made any friends in the UK yet.

But she is from the Midwest like me, and, like me,  she Is So Friendly.

Brits, are you seeing the huge problem here?

I didn’t when I moved here. I was Super Fantastic and Friendly All Of The Time! Why didn’t they want to talk to me? Why did they seem to visibly shrink when I greeted them? Why didn’t they want a hug for Christ’s sake!

Now, clearly this girl isn’t as bad as I was. I was bad.

I would go on the dreaded school run and try and..ya know…talk to people. Introduce myself, ask them about their kids, ask about their lives, tell them about mine. This is how I had spent my entire life in the US interacting with other humans.

This is not how you interact as an American ‘Off the Boat’ and trying to make friends in the UK. Not if you want friends, that is.

Over several years of reading Expat blogs from both sides of the pond, experimenting with British-life-forms and talking to my husband and his circle of friends, I came up with the following fool-proof method of ‘cracking the ice’ in the UK.

Mind, this takes 6-8 months not minutes. (in the US it might not be even that many minutes!)

Here’s the tip:
The first six months of ‘knowing’ someone, The Weather is the only acceptable subject for you to talk about. 
Pro Tip: The Brits LURVE hearing about how awesome we (Americans) find the weather here. 
Scene: School Run/Bus Stop/Neighbours/delivery guy
“Wow, it is a bit rainy/sunny/cloudy/windy today! (smile)”
Then the brit grumbles or agrees
“sure was better/worse/same yesterday! Hope it is better/same tomorrow!” (smile)
Brit grumbles or agrees
 After you have known them for a bit,  add on the following;
“But, I  think the UK has the best weather in the world! I love it here! Really, I would never leave! “(grin)
They will then stare at you, trying to decide if an American is smart enough to be taking the piss. They might even raise an Eyebrow and say…Really?
Then you say
“yeah my mum has 3 feet of snow/tornadoes/hail/heatwave/mosquitoes/sharp shower of frogs!” (basic midwest suck-weather)
then just shrug and say, yeah, best weather in the world. (no exclamation. this is important.) (smile)
You may find that they even talk to YOU next time!
The thing is, the British ARE friendly. You won’t find better friends. They are extremely loyal, forgiving, funny and inclusive. Once you find yourself inside their bubble and under their wing, you will not be disappointed. You will feel included in ways that you never thought that you could.
Don’t give up if you are an Expat anywhere. Just keep trying, but get as much advice as you can. After 5 years here I have found my best-est friend evar and I am truly blessed.
As always, feel free to leave your experiences in the comments, or just to me. Ask me anything.  I get it, I really do.

20 thoughts on “How to make nice and be Friends with the British

  1. The trouble with us Brits is that we don’t trust people. Especially friendly people.

    You say “HI! I just moved from the US” and before you go any farther we hear, “I am going to invade your life, talk about Princess Diana / Harry Potter / Tony Blair, teach your children to say ‘mom’, I want to ask questions about things that make no sense, I will wear a baseball shirt and long socks with sandals to restaurants and I will take photos of everything and want to show them to you every day”. Either that or you are a mad cat catcher, convicted murdered or want to report us to social services for yelling at our kids when we pretend we don’t.

    I find your post interesting as I moved to the arse end of nowhere from the city. I find it the opposite to the city where nobody cared if I lived or died or anything in between. Here they want to know EVERYTHING. Within a few days I must have recounted my life history at least ten times and past that I got bored and started making it up. I know nobody. I am rubbish with names but they all know me. I find this alarming as I am one of those from bigger places for whom making friends is a slow and often painful process. I have been here over a year and still know almost nobody.

    Ask me about the weather. The weather is safe. Tell me the weather in the UK is fab, I will love you. It makes me feel better to think there is somewhere any worse than this place. I will love you slowly and then unleash my true mad self upon you at which point you wish you’d never bothered talking about the weather and run for a restraining order. That is how we work here I think in big places. All lacking in confidence to allow a personality to show through for fear of rejection, making a tit of ourselves and generally being socially unacceptable. Let us face facts here. If Brits showed their mad inner-friendliness at you on first meeting, you’d be scared.

    The internet is an exception. Madness is fine on here. In the playground though, you’ll find me the one in the anorak lurking at the back next to the gate ready to run if anyone so much as tries to talk to me. Keep talking about the weather and one day i’ll admit that beneath the anorak is probably chainmail, or pyjamas and my hat is there because I dyed my hair purple and don’t want anyone to see the streaky marks on my head, I listen to odd music and I have a cat called Death. You see? Sometimes we are better off not showing our friendliness until we suss people out. We look for signs, untidiness, not-perfect show home type people are good, perfect people make me feel bad so are out, kids with impeccable manners are out as I know mine would be frowned upon when they play ‘let us belch the loudest’ etc.

    Narrow minded? Absolutely but better that than face rejection or scorn from other mothers 🙂

  2. Becky, you really need to get in touch with me. Although, when we first started ‘talking’ as a Brit to an American (and that is simplifying it to extreme for those of you not in the know) we had a minute. This is an awesome comment, and thank you.
    You have so much to give in the UK/vs/US department. Why not start a blog of your own? You would prolly be more hilarious than me.

    • OK, this is an example of how to NOT to talk to the Brits!
      DO NOT ATTEMPT . This will be seen as a taking of the piss. I get her, she gets me. FIVE years on.

  3. Ok! So, I tried to make friends talking about the weather.

    And, uh, I failed. So spectacularly American-ly. But it is so not this blog’s fault! I deviated. Let me explain.

    So, I read this post and was feeling all emboldened when I was out walking my dog and saw a neighbor.

    “Hi!” I said in what was hopefully a non-aggressive manner.

    “Erm,” he said.

    “This is nice weather we are having!” I ventured.

    And, then, I kid you not, he PERKED UP. Success!

    “Yes, it is supposed to rain later,” he offered.

    And I should have followed the advice and said “Oh!” and moved on, but NO. I was excited that someone was TALKING TO ME. So I (of course!) went on about how yes, it is supposed to rain later, and they canceled my son’s cricket practice, which is crazy, unless lightning can strike, but surely not since the bats (sticks?) are wooden, and what is a wiki anyway, and us crazy Americans just don’t understand cricket, and for God’s sake, why the white? Do you know how hard laundry is already?

    At which point he literally RAN AWAY from me. Like the Roadrunner. All dust in my face.

    MAN. Next time!

  4. Sigh.
    your response was CLOSE but yet so far. Weather. “yeah, it probably will, hehe gosh! better take my coat!’ and a smile and then DONE . Repeat for 6 months!
    Do not, under any circumstances, attempt cricket as a conversation. Weather. Just weather. HUGS bunny!
    Might want to take up rugby as a sport that you can understand. We will never ‘get’ The Cricket. But I have heard that when we do, we are Totally Accepted as Brits. I have given up hope on this.
    Thanks for the further blog fodder! Love ya girl!

  5. Elizabeth, I feel your pain. I can only apologise for the retarded manner in which us Brits view making friends.

    I recommend:

    Hi, Lovely weather.

    Listen to response and say nothing more other than acknowledging his response.

    Repeat for a good six months.

    After six months be brave. Add on something else like, for example, I see your grass / flowers / trees are doing well. Listen attentively to his response and nod politely.

    Repeat for another six months.

    After the next six months get irritated, chuck him a bottle of wine and say FFS can you not tell I am TRYING to be nice here, you are testing my patience and either be my friend or stop getting in my way.

    He will do one of three things:

    1. Laugh and fetch the corkscrew and proceed to share the vino and become the most annoying friend you ever could want until you wish you’d not wasted the wine on him.

    2. Pretend you don’t exist at which point you have to start stage one all over again.

    3. Call the police at which point you admit defeat and try damage limitation by pretending you were yelling at someone else, even if this means an invisible person. Better he thinks you insane than call the cops.

    We are a hard nation to like. We do like you, we just don’t like being friendly unless we know there is no risk to ourselves. I promise the struggle is worth it. Once we trust you then we are perfectly lovely, less high maintenance and generally fluffy and cuddly. Well, sort of. Apart from our other issues of which we have many.

  6. OMG. This is so true and hilarious. I am going to troll for other Brits to chime in on this. Elizabeth, honey, we feel you. You will get there eventually!

  7. Unfortunately with the british less is always more. To survive over here you have to grab your inner American and gag and chain them.
    Spilling details about your life in the first meeting will have us recoiling in horror. Touch as in hugs will make us automatically bring out the inner sirens. I think it comes from being a separate country with water on all sides. We’re not snuggled in like the rest of Europe. And don’t forget the weather we are distrustful of anything sunny and happy it won’t last long.
    Still when we like you we’ll like you forever and do anything for you. The journey is painful but its worth it.
    I can also sympathise being Welsh my forays into England were painful. I hugged everyone. You would have thought I was inviting each one to do the nasty the look on their face.

    • Yep, less is always more. it takes time. I agree. When they like you the LIKE you. Forever. As long as you can get past the *face* you will have friends for life!

  8. My tip for striking up conversation with the British: Ask them about The French. It’s bound to generate a response, and you’ll never know what direction it will take you in.

    • so…’sure is sunny/rainy today! How about those French Eh?’ HOW DOES THAT WORK?
      I suppose it could work, for a given value of ‘work’….
      What would the response be ? I shudder to think!

  9. Welp, Elizabeth,. you sure have some ‘weather’ to talk about now! This whole conversation will work GREAT for WEEKS. (I am a little bit ashamed for saying)
    I stand by my comment of “yeah my mum has 3 feet of snow/tornadoes/hail/heatwave/mosquitoes/sharp shower of frogs!” (basic midwest suck-weather)”
    Weather, Eh?

  10. I have been thinking about this blog post. I have to say, you are admirable in persisting to even try to make friends with a Brit. If it is hard for sociable, friendly people to make us open up then imagine how hard it is for us unsociable, closed Brits to make friends with other Brits!

    Since moving to Devon I have made one very lovely friend but that is it. I think this morning could be an example of why. Here is what happened.

    I go off on the school run. I HATE the school run. It is before any sensible time and I am expected to look good, or at least look alive, get three children with less organisational skills than the average slug, ready and out of the house. I am meant to have fed them, made sure they are clean, dressed in correct uniforms and stuff. No way am I caring about how I look.

    Anyway, I get to the gates and a mum approaches me and says hello. My first reaction is something like “oh fuck, please don’t talk to me, your hair and make-up are pristine, your car is expensive and looks like it was cleaned within the last year, your children are smart with matching socks and ironed shirts”.

    She says hello. I look round to see if she is talking to someone else but nope, it is me. Now bearing in mind that my best friend died last month and my next closest friend has moved to Oz then I should be grateful to anyone that mutters so much as a word to me. I have moved to a small town where everyone knows everyne else and I hate that yet I want to be part of the community. Hmmm. A little contradictary perhaps.

    I say hello back as politely as I can and try and ensure I pronounced all my words correctly while asking how she is and the obligatory weather comment.

    She then does the WORST thing in the entire world. She asks me to go round for coffee to discuss my possible admission onto the Parent Teacher Association because I have been helping them out a lot lately. This is my idea of hell.

    If I go to hers then she will expect to come to mine. How do you explain to people that live in what can only be described as showhomes that the two foot of toys / clothing / larp kit / general stuff on the floor is acceptable? She would DIE in my house. I would never feel comfy in hers.

    SO here it is. Our problem with making friends is not just that we are retarded in terms of logic but that we also have issues around which people are suitable to be allowed into our homes.

    I have several options. I can clear my house up and lose my personality but gain a group of polite friends. I can decline the invite and be forever branded ungrateful that I didn’t want to join their club OR I can accept that I am a bit special and therefore need special friends to match my level of understanding.

    I’ll opt for the ‘special’ idea I think. Tellingly, as she walked away the woman noticed I was carrying a designer handbag (I won it in a comp), she touched it and murmered in a shocked voice that it was genuine before flashing me a smile. I think that absolutely sums up why I am unsuitable for the PTA.

    Back to the making friends drawing board. In fact maybe I should work out my idea friend.
    1. Not vain. Vanity irritates me highly.
    2. Openminded about wearing pyjamas all day.
    3. Flexible with housework.
    4. Able to eat takeout from the carton and not care.
    5. Not give a damn if I wear make-up or not.
    6. Intelligence is a must, as is humour – the kind that gets you into trouble like laughing at people falling over when you really do know better but can’t help it.
    7. Imagination and creativity also a must.
    8. Patient. I am almost always late despite struggling not to be, forget things easily and am utterly disorganised. They have to deal with that.

    In return for the above I am willing to offer loyalty, love and cupcakes. I will travel the earth to help my good friends and they know it. Maybe I should get a T shirt printed. With that on the front and on the back ‘desperate but not that desperate’ for when faced with scary people.

    The above is probably why I should not be allowed to have friends.

    • YES. THIS.

      Seriously, you people are awesome. You are my people. Where are you?

      I need imperfect people that laugh a lot and don’t make me feel like crap. I live in Surrey. All I have are Footballer wives and really intense expats from Texas and New Jersey. I am sure they are nice people. But they are not MY people.

      • Welp, apparently we are down here in Devon, lol! You dont do LRP by any chance do you? I think you might find some of your tribe out here with us oddballs!

    • Agree with above also my friends have to be well slightly odd to put it politely. I know I have a unique perspective on life:) I need people who can understand that.

    • I had to say to my youngest this morning…”you can’t wear the same pair of mis-matched sox to school three days in a row. Please. Here are some new ones. “

      • I did something really rubbish last week. I got my daughter shoes with a little strap across the front. This leaves a big fat gap between the strap and the next bit that covers her toes. So all the odd socks (never remotely the same colour) now show nicely. Before this she had boots and it was easy. I only ever dared intervene on PE days.
        Where do the socks all go? I have a trillion odd socks. Drives me nuts. Every year I buy a whole load more and vow to never need to do it again. Yup, that will be me standing in line paying for sodding socks again then. Who stals my socks? I buy girlie ones to stop the boys taking them but still they vanish.

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