By Sarah Pridgeon
A great joy of my new life is coming across pockets of the old world within the new – homage paid to a person’s roots or simply a part of one lifestyle transplanted into another. From local versions of afternoon tea to steamed sponge desserts made by Brits in new homes and my favorite teabags on the shelves of the supermarket, I’ve seen snippets of British culture more regularly than you might expect.
It doesn’t always go completely to plan, though, and such is the case for this week’s sighting of Britishness on American shores.
A friend of mine and her husband are currently on a combined business trip and anniversary vacation in Florida. She sent an excited message to let me know they’d found a British-style pub and were heading there for supper that very evening.
Naturally, my curiosity was piqued. Was this to be an example of a fellow ex-pat finding a niche in the market? A traveler who enjoyed their time abroad so much they brought a bit of it home? It was important that I know.
And so I insisted she send me photographs as a starting point for my voyage of discovery. The first I received was of the menu, which I was pleased to discover revolved around fish and chips.
I approved of the inclusion of shepherd’s pie and bangers n’ mash (which is sausage in onion gravy with mashed potatoes), although bemused by the “accent salad” they are served with. I still haven’t got the hang of cold food being served with hot and would personally have preferred some peas and carrots.
The rest of the choices, however, were disappointingly different to those you would find in an actual British pub. Instead, this establishment had given British-sounding names to American classics, such as for some reason renaming the prime rib to “Welsh dip”.
In some cases, they’ve added a twist to justify it, such as frying onions in Guinness for the hot ham and Swiss or allowing customers to add a second patty to their (very American) burger to turn it into a “Big Ben”. Others are a bit of a stretch – corned beef Reuben, for example, is just not a British classic.
Still, it wasn’t a bad start, all things told, even if they didn’t bother to explain why a British pub would serve food so quintessentially American as countryside chicken with mac and cheese.
The décor was perfectly acceptable and I have no problem at all with the giant Union Jack painted across the ceiling – it’s a pretty flag and works well in most situations. Staff members wearing kilts was a nice touch, though I did wonder if it was the only stereotypical clothing they could think of aside from the uniforms worn by the Queen’s Guard, except nobody could get through the door while wearing the hat.
At this point, though, I was pretty sure that no British people were involved in the creation of this franchise. I was correct.
It was, in fact, founded by an American who has made a number of trips across the pond and says he fell in love with pub culture. As I’ve mentioned before, a pub’s original purpose as a “public house” was to be a gathering point for the local community and a place where everyone, no matter their age, would feel at home. This is what he aimed to recreate, which made me smile.
He also mentions that he was inspired by the hospitality he experienced back in Ol’ Blighty, which leads me to wonder where exactly he visited. British service is not exactly up to the same standards one can expect over here, so whoever was serving him must have been in a really good mood.
As the brochure claims that everyone employed in this pub is “British at heart”, I asked my friend to request some extra ketchup. She refused to partake in my experiment, even though it was very scientific: had the waitress sighed and looked put upon, she could be classified as “as British as it gets”.
Thus far, I was prepared to add this eatery to my list of British blips on America’s radar and feel content. Unfortunately, my friend then sent me another photograph that demonstrated why it’s not always a good idea to mimic a culture you’re not entirely absorbed in.
The photograph was of a list of 20 British words and their meanings – a helpful guide for those looking to become part of the pub scene. It included entertaining swerves between the very old (such as “I’ve got the collywobbles” as a way to say you’re nervous) and the relatively new (like “bangin’” to describe something as cool and entertaining).
But then everything went to pot. Despite explaining “knackered” correctly as a way to say you’re really tired (I believe it originates from “knacker’s yard”, the place where Boxer from Animal Farm eventually wound up), they went completely off the rails in combining it with the example for “chunder”.
The list was right in saying “to chunder” means “to vomit”, but the example was: “try not to get so knackered that you chunder on St. Patrick’s Day again, dear”. Is it normal to get so tired that one is sick on their own shoes? Is this just something that doesn’t happen to me?
It was then I noticed the final entry on the list, and for a while there I was genuinely baffled. “Scummy”? The only time I’ve heard that one used was when I got told off by my grandmother for leaving a ring around the edge of the bath once it had drained.
I certainly hadn’t heard it used as a synonym for “delicious” and it took several minutes before I realized they meant “scrummy”, which is short for scrumptious and is the sort of thing you’d expect one of the daughters in Downton Abbey to utter when handed a slice of sponge cake.
My blood ran cold as I realized the potential ramifications. I am now concerned there will be an epidemic of American tourists who can’t understand why they were chased out of a British house after telling the hostess her cake tasted of soap. This is not quite the cultural sharing I had in mind.