Weird Shit Americans Say

As an Aussie living in the US, I’ve learned that there’s a pretty major culture gap between the two countries. And while we all technically speak English, in the beginning, I sometimes had no clue what people were saying. Zero. Now, us Aussies have a few questionable words and sayings of our own (for example: for the longest time, my American bf thought “buggered” meant I was annoyed at him. Bless his heart!), but these are some of the Americanisms that hurt my brain…

They call mains ‘entrées’

When you sit down to dins at a restaurant, the first plate is an ‘appetizer,’ the second is an ‘entrée,’ and the next is… dessert. Yep, Americans call the main meal an ‘entrée,’ so don’t bother flipping through the menu wondering if there’s a page missing. There isn’t! To confirm this makes no sense, I dug a little deeper and found out that the ‘entrée’ is the French word for ‘entrance,’ as in the beginning of something. I rest my case.

And a butt is a ‘fanny’

This one can get you in some trouble! In British English, ‘fanny’ is slang for the vaj, but in America, it means butt. (And to take this even further, ‘bum’ is a pretty derogatory word for a homeless person). So, if you hear someone talking about their new fanny pack, do your best to keep a straight face, nod along and know that they’re talking about a bum bag. Since we’re talking weird words, that’s another one: a fanny pack or bum bag is usually worn at the front, so whoever invented those terms was either a serious trendsetter or a fashion disaster

The smallest mattress you can get is a ‘twin’

In Australia, a single bed sleeps one, and a double bed sleeps two people (if you’re willing to get real cosy). In America, the smallest mattress size is a twin – but it only fits one person! And the next size up is ‘full size,’ which is our version of a double. What does that even mean?? Full size adults only? If you’re moving to the US and decking out your new apartment, skip the shopping confusion and treat your grown-ass body to a queen.

‘Chatting up’ means having a casual convo

Don’t stress if your co-worker says she’s going to chat up your boss, or if your boyfriend says he’s off to chat up your bestie. In Oz, as you know, this verb means ‘to hit on’, but in ‘Murica, it’s one of two things: a) a light, casual conversation or b) the act of speaking positively about someone. So, when a person says they’ll chat you up, they’re going to say nice things about you.

‘Favouring’ isn’t about picking favourites…

It’s easier to explain this ~interesting~ word with an example. Let’s say you’re a mum with a couple of kids. If an American asks you who your kids favour, you don’t want to answer with, “Well, Jen’s SUCH a daddy’s girl, and Ben is so attached to me.” On this side of the world, ‘favour’ means ‘to have a physical resemblance’. That lovely, inquisitive American was just asking if your children look like you or their babby daddy.

They call bathrooms ‘restrooms’

And people will cringe if you ask where the bathroom (or – god forbid! – toilet) is. It’s considered crude. My question is: why a restroom? Do people like chilling out in there?  Are they embarrassed about the fact they’re doing what every single human does? Does the average American dream of a bathroom with plush couches, TVs and a makeup counter (Kris Jenner, we’re looking at you)? We’ll never know.

Petrol is ‘gas’ – but it’s a liquid

Not to get too nerdy on you, but gas is most definitely a liquid, and not, you know, a gas. And that’s one of about three tidbits I remember from year eight science.

If you’re ‘thick’, you’re curvy

Thanks to the explosion of fitspo Instagrams, this is becoming a little more mainstream, but it can still be confusing. In Britain and Australia, describing someone as thick is insulting – it means they’re rather stupid, or missing the common sense gene. On the flipside, in America, ‘thick’ is usually a compliment. It means you’re curvy, with big boobs or a little junk in the trunk.  

They call jam ‘jelly’

When you order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’re not going to get a dollop of raspberry-flavoured Aeroplane jelly. The use of ‘jam’ for ‘fruit preserves’ can be traced back to the 1730s, and meant ‘to press objects close together.’ Supposedly, ‘jelly’ comes from the French word for ‘to congeal,’ which is when a liquid becomes very thick and sticky. So, it makes sense when you’re talking about things like gravy… but sorry, not jam! I imagine this is how confusing Vegemite is to Americans.

A ‘biscuit’ is a type of savoury bread

And it’s delish! Here, biscuits remind me of scones. They’re firm and lumpy on the outside, and crumbly once you break them apart. The main difference is, they’re savoury, and usually served with lashings of gravy and a side of sausage or ham. As for sweet biscuits, they’re just called cookies.   

Ordering a whole pizza? That’s a pie

I’ve worked my way through many pizzas in my time here, and I still don’t understand this. A slice is a slice, and eight slices are a pie. For an Aussie, a pie is a puff pastry treat filled with chunky meat and potato, and best enjoyed with mushy peas.

They wear sweaters and sweatshirts when it’s cold

… at a time you wouldn’t normally be sweating?

The ‘first floor’ is the ground floor

Like the New York vs LA thing, this subject is a source of debate. In the UK, Europe and Australia, when you enter a building, you’re on the ground floor. The first floor comes next, followed by the second, and so on. In America, ‘ground floor’ doesn’t exist. The floor that’s on street level is the first floor. Just something to keep in mind when you’re stumbling back to your hotel or Airbnb. 😉

“It’s all downhill from here” means the easiest part is yet to come

This. Is. So. Confusing. If you hear an American say, “it’s all downhill from here,” they mean they’re ticked off the hardest part of their task. But for most other people ‘to go downhill’ has negative connotations. Like, “Oops, I just downed three tequila shots in five minutes and forgot I haven’t eaten dinner. It’s all downhill from here…”

They write the date as month/day/year

I can’t tell you how many forms I’ve scrunched up after making this mistake! My brain just can’t wrap around this concept. The day comes before the month, sorry.

If you want the ‘whole nine yards’ of something, you want it ALL

To use this in a sentence: “I’m taking every piece of winter clothing I own on holiday: jeans, coats, knits, beanies, the whole nine yards.” But where did nine yards come from?! (To give you an idea of how random the number is: it’s 8.2 metres). According to old mate Google, it could refer to the amount of cloth needed to make a Scottish kilt. Whaaat.

They don’t say the ‘h’ in herb

Craving a pot of herbal tea? Ask for an ‘erbal’ tea, or people will look at you funnily. This is even more baffling when you think about how Americans say the first letter in every other ‘h’ word. Happy, hair, holiday, Harry…

A ‘grilled cheese’ is a toastie

And it’s made in a frying pan. Not a grill. I don’t get it.


Words by Katia Iervasi

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