Alien or expat? 15 bizarre differences between the US & UK

CoffeeCatDogKid | 15 bizarre differences between the US & UK

Do you know what box you get to check on your tax return if you’re not a citizen of the US?

(Non-) Resident Alien

I understand the classification. Either you are a resident (i.e. a green card holder) or a non-resident (i.e. student visa, work permit etc.). The alien part is even simpler—it means you don’t belong.


Ouch, right?

A recent class discussion of mine went something like this:

Professor: Why do we feel the need to categorize people who come to the US as immigrants?

Colleague: Do we really call everybody immigrants though? I was always under the impression that some people are called expatriates. Like, British people who live overseas call themselves expatriates, but when we talk about Hispanics or Asians coming to America, we call them immigrants. Alec, what do you call yourself?

Me: Ummm, I’ve always thought of myself as an expatriate of the UK.

Colleague: But isn’t the difference just your skin color? What I’m saying is, if you weren’t white, we would call you an immigrant. Doesn’t having white skin and calling yourself an expatriate put you in some privileged group that believes its fundamentally superior to black people, or Hispanics, or Asians that are migrating from their home countries?

I want to make one thing clear, though. I have never considered myself more important or superior to other migrating groups because of my skin color. Nor did my colleague intend this as an insult (tone of voice is difficult to portray here). It was simply a line of scholarly inquiry, and it was one that I appreciated a great deal because I had never paused to think too much about my perceived status in the US.

I have white skin. I speak English fluently. And for the most part, these days, I speak it with a pretty decent American accent. When I meet people I’ve never met before, they don’t see me as foreign. That’s the privilege of my white skin.


But the US government puts me in the same classification as everybody else: immigrant. And this is rightly so. I recently went to have my biometrics done at the US Citzenship and Immigration service center, and I was the one white kid among a sea of Hispanic and Asians individuals. For that small moment, I realized that despite my privileged assimilation among the American people, I am still so very different, and often feel so very foreign in a strange world I am working hard to understand. And here are a handful of reasons why.

Before you read this list, remember that I love your country dearly. Please enjoy.

1. It’s a toilet, not a bathroom. 

I mean, there’s no bath in there for goodness sake. It’s also not a restroom, I’m not there to take a nap. I’m there to take care of business, then I’m out.

2. Potato, pot-ah-to.

I say amber light, you say yellow light. I mean, it’s green, amber, red. If you think it’s really yellow, you should check again next time you’re sitting at the traffic lights.

3. That damned-awful gap.

I appreciate toilet stalls that don’t have a 1/4 inch gap around them. I mean, you guys put a man on the moon, can you not make a toilet stall where I can do my business without observation? Please.

4. Pickle people.

I do not understand your hidden love for pickles. I have been here for 5 years, you guys get a pickle with almost everything. It’s bizarre. I just wanted a cheeseburger and some fries.

5. 50oz soda.

Soda refills. I love them. Really. But does anybody need that much carbonated sugar? And who needs a liter in one cup. And no, I don’t need a straw. In my country, straws are for the children so they don’t spill.

6. The pet elephant portion sizes. 

Need I say more? I buy one meal and I eat for three days. This is why the world thinks your fat.

7. The insincere hello.

Greeting me with “How are you?” Like, if you’re gonna ask, at least care enough to wait for an answer you inconsiderate jerk. In my country we say hello by saying “Hello!”

8. Hugs and kisses, without the hugs.

I like to put “xx” at the end of my texts. No, it doesn’t mean I want to make out with you, I’m just being nice. This is a perfectly normal thing to do where I come from. I’m not hitting on you, and I’m not being shy about my secret crush on you.

9. Addicted America.

Prescription drug advertisements. Seriously. If I need it, my doctor will tell me. That’s why he went to medical school for like a bazillion years. And no I don’t need a coupon. Shouldn’t we just make them as cheap as we can, so that, you know, sick people can afford them.

10. You’re friendly, but sometimes too friendly.

Customer service at the mall. Okay, so I appreciate how friendly you’re trying to be, and I get that sometimes European service can be a little disconcerting for Americans. But when I’m trying on a pair of jeans, I don’t need 5 more flung over the changing room door. Leave me alone. Oh, and I can see everything is on 50% sale today, the three giant red signs at the entrance were the clue, you don’t have to follow me around.

11. Yes, this is for real.

American’s constant use of “Oh, really?” No, I just made that all up. Yes, of course oh really! Otherwise I wouldn’t have said it. Try something like “I understand” or “Mhmm,” it prevents confusion.

12. Time to tan.

You go out, you changed from white to brown. You are now tanned. It’s an adjectival verb being used here. You have been tanned by the sun. Past tense. You can’t be tan.

13. 12th February 2015.

See what I did there. I started from the smallest, and went to the largest. Also written as 12.02.2015. Why, you ask? Because it’s logical. Not to mention this is how the rest of the world does it. Why on earth do you put the day in the middle? Crazy.

14. No, it’s not socialism.

My country is capitalist. Very much so. Yes, we have higher taxes, but then we also light our streets and freeways, fill our potholes, provide women with free contraception, and prevent monopolies. Have you ever met a friendly Comcast agent? Yeah, that’s what happens when you let them get away with it.

15. The patriotism.

I love my country. You’re allowed to love yours as well. But nobody can’t realistically believe it’s the best at everything (i.e. 7th in literacy). But you are first in the number of incarcerated adults. Like I said, I love this country, it is an incredible place to live. But other places have freedom too.

Let’s have a more positive attitude on immigration, whether they’re black, brown or white. They’re leaving their homeland, and even if it’s a white western country, we are more different than you might think.


2 thoughts on “Alien or expat? 15 bizarre differences between the US & UK

  1. I think the reason we do month first is because that is how you verbally say it, “Today is March 5th, 2011.” But I also understand the little-big way of writing it. I also agree about the huge portion sizes and drink sizes (Justin shakes his head at me since I don't eat a lot). And, now that I'm a working mom, I'm a little jealous of some European countries that give free government daycare and subsidies for the families that have both parents working and children in daycare (it would have really helped the budget this year!)


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