What are the main cultural differences between the UK and the USA?
Having lived in the US, I was struck by the following main differences (I should say, btw, that while the question refers to the UK, I can only observe all this from my ENGLISH point of view...the UK is not monocultural):
- Americans are religious - bigtime. The UK (possibly excepting N Ireland) is now well into its second post-religious generation. It's telling that a US President must demonstrate his or her Christianity to get elected whereas open religiosity would actively damage a candidate UK PM's chances. Faced with a religious candidate the UK electorate would be very suspicious of that sort of thing and worry they had a fanatic on their hands; faced with a non-religious one the US electorate would fear they had a drifting tumbleweed with no character foundation or moral compass.
- I was really struck by how loud everyone was when I first arrived. Loud in work; loud in restaurants; loud on the subway. It slowly became normal, of course, until i didn't hear it at all. Then I had to get used to the silence and stop shouting myself when I moved back to the UK
- Americans are definitely more open and friendly. I came across this all the time. It was even disturbing at times for my more misanthropic English character ("I'm sorry fellow passenger, I got on this bus to travel from A to B, not to join a social club. I have no wish to know what's going on in your life and quite a bit less than none for you to know what's going on in mine...damn it why do I never have a newspaper to hide in when I need one?") . English people need space and privacy; they get distressed when stripped of it. Being too friendly to an English person can be quite an unfriendly thing to do.....
- .....but along with that engagement of Americans comes something else hard to describe without sounding insulting, which I don't mean to be. It's not the exact word but the closest I can get: a certain "neediness". They need affirmation, their work needs affirmation, their city needs affirmation, above all and beyond everything their country needs affirmation. I learned early on that every conversation about American food/weather/culture/whatever needed to be liberally garlanded with "fantastic", "awesome", "I love it, "so much better than home". I vividly remember when a lady in New York asked me how I was finding America and I was still naive enough to reply honestly "Well, it's all been OK, no problems so far". There was a silence that felt as if I'd just p*ssed on Abraham Lincoln's tomb........OK is DEFINITELY not good enough for America. I think in contrast the best summary of the needs of the English for foreign approval was something I read once in a book "The English are convinced (with some degree of justification) that nobody really understands them. This is not a problem, however, as they have no particular wish to be understood. After all, to be understood would be an invasion of their privacy"
- The overt patriotism of the US is striking for an English observer. It is very different to the quieter English patriotism and I think both sides will misunderstand if they make the mistake of trying to judge the other by their own standards. Through narrow English eyes American patriotism can seem vulgar, contrived, almost desperate - ‘what are they trying to hide with all those flags and oaths of allegiance and car stickers and jacket pins?" is a question that may spring to an English mind. But it's a mistaken question: there's nothing hide, these things are outbursts of an admirable love of country that runs so deep and so strong it simply has to manifest itself. Equally, if you look at low-vis English patriotism through American eyes you could easily interpret the lack of show as meaning that it is faded or ineffectual. A weak, foppish nation lacking the passion to defend itself. But if you did you'd be making the same assumption made by King Philip of Spain, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill, Hitler, and General Galtieri. It's an assumption that has a record of not ending well.
- Finally there are the Americans' gun and private medicine things that baffle me as much as any other English person but these have been flogged to death on Quora so I'm not going to waste time on them here.