how to be an awkward american abroad

Awkward American Abroad

I thought it would be amusing to revisit my time abroad in Scotland and discuss how awkward I was. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I can be pretty damn awkward. So if you’re planning a move to the UK in the near future, I can give you some helpful tips on how to feel really weird. Without further ado…

How to be an awkward American abroad:

+ Hold up the grocery line with your American swipe credit card. Since everyone else has quick and efficient credit cards with a chip and pin, the store clerk will be utterly lost when it’s your turn to pay. He’ll try all of the buttons on the cash register and it may or may not work. Today is not your day so you get turned away and have to put all of your groceries back, completely humiliated. Make a mental note to bring bank notes next time, even if you get confused counting out their monopoly money.

+ Attempt to drive on the other side of the road. You should have probably planned your driving lesson on a wider, less curvy road, but your husband decides to let you drive up in the Highlands. You get flustered, hit the curb, overcorrect and almost slam into a huge truck. Whoa, you almost died in the f-ing Scottish Highlands. Write that one down in your diary.

+ Forget which way to look when crossing busy streets. Left, right, left — errrr, no! Right, left, right. Yes, you try and pound that into your brain. Shit! Almost got hit by a bus. Good thing you’re still newlyweds and the husband decided to save you (would he do that in a few years? Who knows). Well, damn. Didn’t see that cab there either! You’re sweating now and should probably just go back to the flat; it’s safe there.

Don’t worry, you’ll catch on after a few months. Then when you move back to the States, you’ll be confused all over again.

+ Get embarrassed when people notice your American accent. A lady in the local Starbucks compliments your “cool accent” and you don’t know how to respond. You give her a stiff nod and turn red, all while trying not to spill your grande cafe mocha. Man, you’re awkward.

+ Try to throw away said coffee cup in a shop. More embarrassment ensues. Since you’re awkward and the cashier is awkward, this is how the situation plays out:

You (pointing to an empty cup of coffee): “Excuse me, do you have a trash can behind the register?”
Clerk: “Um, errr. What are you asking for?”
You (getting flustered): “A trash can behind the till?”
Clerk: *blank stare*
You (turning red): “…so I can throw my coffee away? Trash?”
Clerk: *blank stare*
You (arrrghhhh!): “A trash bin — a rubbish bin!”
Clerk: “Oh yes! Let me take that for you.”

*run away and hide*

+ Make a list of important lingo you need to remember. But doesn’t making a list of lingo just confirm that you’re awkward? Maybe.

Scottish Lingo You Should Know
Have you ever been an awkward American abroad?


Filed Under: Expat72 Comments
  • Caitlin

    I always forget Americans don’t have the chip and pin card – I think the rest of the world has had them for years! When I am in the US I am always looking for the place to insert my card and they stare at me like I am dumb until I remember I have to swipe it – so it definitely goes both ways!

  • Lori and Rebecca

    Thanks for the laugh! Loved reading about your (mis)adventures.

  • Shanondoah Nicholson

    I’ve been a Canadian abroad before, I had similar experiences. I was in Australia, I learned how to cross the road then forgot when I got home. I also felt like I spent at least 15 minutes a day explaining my accent or a term I used.

  • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

    bahaha! i love hearing other people’s awkward stories as an expat because we all have them!

  • Stephany Pando

    This is hilarious! I love how you structured this post. It sounds like you had a pretty memorable trip. Now I know how to be perfectly awkward when I go to Europe this summer :)

  • BlushandBarbells

    Try asking for a bathroom at a National Rail station and have the porter ask if you want to take a bath and have him repeat it to all his co-workers as if it’s a great joke while you stand there wishing you weren’t so diligent about drinking 2 liters of water a day. No bueno!

    • beautybabbling

      I got to take a short trip to England one summer during high school, and that was one thing our tour guide drilled into us. Ask for the toilet, not the bathroom. He also drilled into us that over there, you stand on the right side of the escalator and RUN on the left. :-)

  • Ashley Hayley

    Oh man, don’t even get me started on the switching back and forth with driving. I’ve been back in the states for three months and I STILL look over my left shoulder when I’m backing up.

    Luckily, there were a ton of Americans in the area (Air Force base) so all the Britons knew what I was talking about when I asked for a trash can. AND they took our swipe cards (once we told them to swipe)!

  • Nicole @ Treasure Tromp

    I cannot tell you the number of times I almost died trying to cross the street in South Africa. And driving was even worse at first. Every time I would make a right turn I would literally say, outloud: “wide right, Nicole, wide right!”

    • Carly Herring

      I just had to comment because your comment made me laugh Nicole! In the US, I’m constantly chanting “right tight” so I remember to hug the roadside inside of going wide!!

      • Nicole @ Treasure Tromp

        ha! I’m so happy that I’m not the only one that had a problem with turns!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Ahhh, that sounds so stressful! Happy to be back in the States? ;)

      • Nicole @ Treasure Tromp

        yes! driving is waaaay less stressful!

  • sarahdweaver

    Try explaining that you look sloppy because you like to wear sweatpants around the house. (Pants = underwear)… So, I was admitting I was embarrassed I looked bad in my sweaty underwear. Now, that’s embarrassing.

    Sarah at

    • Postcards from Rachel

      I can’t stop laughing right now. That’s hilarious!

      • sarahdweaver

        Oh, I have so many of those stories. I need to be better at writing them down.

  • Elizabeth Georgian

    This is hilarious! I think we all are a little awkward as expats! Thanks for sharing!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Thanks for reading!

  • Kaelene Spence

    Haha I have been there on all of these! I always get so uncomfortable at the grocery check out line pulling out my outdated American card, I feel like they look at me thinking “really who doesn’t have a chip in their card now a days”!

  • The Guy

    That’s quite funny what you went through but glad to hear you survived, especially with the driving. The accent thing is quite a role reversal – as a Brit whenever I head to the US I can guarantee someone will say something about how “cute” they think my accent is.

    Interesting selection of word translations you have listed, quite a few are unique to Scotland rather than the UK.

  • Amanda

    Some smaller shops won’t let you swipe nowadays! Luckily I have chip and pin now but there were a few times I had to embarrassingly leave items behind because they can’t swipe. x

  • Lyndsey Smile

    Haha I went through the opposite on my trip to America, the confusion when I couldn’t chip and pin, for my 63 year old dag the signing machines were just too much hassle haha. Also the awkward loving my accent thing xx

  • Jenna

    Ah ha! I feel like I’m constantly the awkward American abroad – even six years after moving to SA! So much of this lingo is also familiar since SAffers use UK english :)

  • Sara Louise

    When I first started driving in Dublin I was constantly reminding myself, “stay left, stay left”. I was so relieved when I moved to France and got back on the ‘right’ side of the road :)

    • Postcards from Rachel

      When we moved back to the States, my husband had to remind himself to stay right. Pretty sure he almost killed us a few times. Switching it up is so difficult!

  • Sammy Dorn

    I was crossing the road the other day and there was an American beside me who said ‘Ahhh I never know which way to look!’

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Hahaha, that’s awesome! :)

  • racingcourne

    The different ways to saying everyday words in different places is always so interesting!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      It really is! Interesting but confusing.

  • Monica L

    haha I love this! Being American can be so awkward! I may have to make a post about all the ways I got made fun of(jokes obviously) by foreigners while I was abroad just because I am American.

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Yes, please write the post! And then let me know about it! Love reading these posts. :)

  • Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

    You’ve just made me laugh out loud! That clerk was either stupid, or being belligerent though because I’m pretty sure everyone knows in the UK what a trash can is. I would get what you meant!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      See, that’s what I thought too! I figured everyone in the UK would understand what “trash can” meant.

  • Anna Belle

    Grocery stores always seem to be the worst! In Germany, no cards, just cash – and the cashier will pressure you for exact change (an amount you only mostly understood), all while you are trying to bag your groceries….

    • Postcards from Rachel

      That’s my worst nightmare. I have a tendency to get extremely flustered so I’d probably just walk out of the grocery store. Ha!

  • Jess Boyd

    I’m dying right now! And that awkward moment when you realize that only the UK drives on the wrong side of the road. I thought the rest of Europe followed suit, but apparently not. And this is why I am thankful every day I was never allowed to drive in France.

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Hahahaha, that’s awesome! ;) And yeah, I only drove twice in the UK. The second time was a little better, but…

  • Casey C

    HAHA! Can totallllly relate!

    At least you got “cool accent.” One time a German told me sounded like a “hillbilly”…that all Southerners sound like hillbillies to him. Umm…thanks?

    • Postcards from Rachel

      That is SO rude! I can’t believe someone told you that!!

  • stephanie court

    I was a very awkward American abroad in Argentina just a few months ago. There’s nothing more awkward than thinking you can speak the language, giving it a try with your perfect pronunciation, only to have the locals stare blankly at you because you had NO IDEA they spoke Spanish with a completely different accent than what you’re used to hearing and they can’t understand a word you just said. One example – tortilla is pronounced “torti-sha” and calle (street) is “casha.” Asking for directions and ordering food were two of the most awkward tasks during the whole trip!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Wow, that does sound confusing! I would never survive!

  • Jamie @ Gunters Abroad

    LOVE this!! I am driving a manual for the first time, oh AND we are on the other side of the road…it sucks! I stall out at roundabouts and train crossings and its totally embarrassing. And it took me awhile to figure out how to ask where the bathroom was!! Awkward American….check! Cheers :)

    • Postcards from Rachel

      I would never, ever be able to drive a manual car on the other side of the road. And don’t get me started on roundabouts. I remember almost killing myself in DC after college because of one. Iowa does NOT have those. Ha.

  • Rachel

    Yes yes! Too funny Rachel! Loved this post!!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Thank you! :)

  • Samantha Krause

    This is a great post! For me, it wasn’t which side of the road to drive on…it was getting used to a manual car, and having ZERO stopsigns/lights- its all yielding!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Oh, gosh. I would have crashed for sure!

  • Lisette

    Hilarious! I read this this morning and I may or may not have woken up B. Angry face. Whoops

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Hahahaha. Sorry, B! ;)

  • Carly Herring

    I love this post Rachel!! I had just finished writing my very own set of awkward Australian in the US moments for my blog when I read your post!! I laughed out loud at so many of them! I feel like we can all relate to all those moments!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      I can’t wait to read your post! It’s always fun comparing different awkward expat moments. :)

  • thediynurse


    • Postcards from Rachel

      Heh, thanks! ;)

  • Olivia

    Haha, I love the image at the end with all the lingo. I don’t use all of them because I’m from the UK not Scotland, but pretty much most of them are what I use :D Only now do I realize how much we use cheers haha xD Anyways, nonetheless I hope it was a good trip. Travelling is all about being flexible to the culture and so on ;)

    Check out my post on the benefits of blogging (no British lingo included, I promise!)

  • Erica @ thebartlettsabroad

    Crossing the road is the most confusing thing! Every time I’d get to cross one I’d have to figure out where the cars should be coming from. Pretty happy that we use so many words like the Scotts do, and TV helps me understand Americans better ;)

  • Dannielle @ Chic-a-DeeDee

    haha seriously yes to all of these. I HATE the word rubbish too and refuse to use it. I don’t know why, guess it’s just be being an awkward American :) Also underwear = pants. Lots of embarrassment over that one.

  • Fran

    haha this is awesome!

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  • Danielle E. Alvarez

    Haha, I am an awkward American every single day. Being abroad definitely amplifies the fact though :)

  • Whitney Morris

    This is comical! I have no doubt I would make a way bigger fool of myself!

  • MeHaley Babich

    I had the same problems! I wasn’t living there, but recently on a visit I went into a coffee shop and asked for a “take away” cup and when I sat down at a table they got really angry. I was so confused. Lovely people, just a lot of confusion due to the cultural divide.

  • Megan C. Stroup

    Hahaha this is great. I’m so glad I had a credit card with an international chip before I took my backpacking trip last year. Sometimes I was the only person in my group who could get bus tickets!

  • Lauren Hughes

    This made me and my Scottish colleague next to me laugh a lot and I am English.

    Some of these are generally just English things, but there are a lot of other strange things that the Scottish say, that even I need translating to English :) We are pretty sure that most of the time we are having two separate conversations…

    Jag (Scottish) – Jab (English) – Vaccinations (American)

    House Coat (Scottish) – Dressing Gown (English) – Bath Robe (American)

    There are others, these are just the two that stood out!

  • Casey

    hahaha love this!

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  • Alex

    Story of my life, except it’s German I have to deal with. I love this list – especially the credit card thing. That took me forever to understand.

  • Suda

    I’ve just stumbled on your blog and I’m really enjoying your Scotland posts as I’ve been living here for four years! I grew up in the midwest and now I’m finishing up my undergrad here. It’s funny what bits and pieces of Scottish/British lingo you pick up and those you don’t. For example, flat/lift/till/bin/rubbish feel pretty natural for me but I’ll never call pants trousers! Haha :)

  • Shane Prather

    WOW the lingo is so much like Australia…must be that British influence :)

  • Oui In France

    I’ve never been to Scotland but I’d definitely get confused w/the lingo. Love the chart and list. As an American, I’ve experienced all of these and more!

  • J. Cruickshank

    cracker=digestive=wrong. A digestive is basically like an american graham cracker — which is not a standard cracker, as one would not eat it with cheese or meat. We have digestives with tea, as with any biscuit. We have ”crackers”, which we eat with cheese, that we call savoury biscuits, biscuits for cheese, or cream crackers.