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    22 Cultural References And American Jokes From TV And Movies That I Find Extra Confusing

    Mean Girls: "You could try Sears!" Me: "Haha... is that bad!?"

    Have you, a non-American, ever been watching a TV show or a movie and a character has referenced something or someone that's gone straight over your head? Well I have – more than a few times!! Here are some examples:

    Universal Pictures / Via Tumblr

    1. Do you remember when Joey met his "identical hand twin" in Friends? Well it turns out that the theme song he comes up with for their TV show is actually based on a pretty popular American folk song!

    Joey in Friends talking to a man and saying this hand is your hand this hand is my hand oh wait that's your hand no wait it's my hand
    NBC / Via

    Here I was thinking it was just a jaunty song that everyone found particularly entertaining, but the song Joey sings is actually a parody of "This Land Is Your Land", a 1944 record by American folk singer Woody Guthrie!

    2. After Annie meets the picture-perfect Helen in Bridesmaids, she spends her entire car trip home making fun of her, including how snobby she is. Here, Annie mimics Helen throwing shade at how she is from Milwaukee.

    Universal Pictures / Via

    After talking to actual Americans I have learned that Milwaukee has a rep for being an especially boring place – like, their main tourist attraction is a motor cycle museum. So yeah... sorry Annie.

    3. In a scene from You've Got Mail, Joe asks about a journalist Kathleen is seeing who uses the handle NY152; Joe then reads him to filth and likens him to a Clark Bar.

    An image from you've Got Mail showing Tom Hanks saying He's 152 years old he's had 152 moles removed then Meg Ryan says it's the number of people who think he looks like Clark Gable and he replied the number of people who think he looks like a clark bar
    Warner Bros. / Via Buzzfeed

    Having seen what a Clark Bar looks like – long, flat, and mottled – I'd much rather be compared to Clark Gable.

    4. Remember this iconic line in Mean Girls? Regina goes to try on a Spring Fling dress she's held back and finds it no longer fits her, so the shop assistant suggests she try the department store Sears, which is allegedly kind of... tacky.

    Paramount Pictures / Via

    If this didn't have the cadence of a clapback, I'd probably think it was friendly advice. "What a lovely and helpful woman", I'd say!

    5. In Disney's Hercules, Pain and Panic suggest calling a telephone number in Roman numerals. The number would be familiar to Americans, but in the UK it would be IX-IX-IX, or 999!

    A still from Hercules showing Hercules beside a big rock and two boys trapped underneath it and one of them shouts somebody call I X I I
    Buena Vista Pictures Distribution / Via Buzzfeed

    I'm not sure which came first – me learning how to read Roman numerals or me realising that Americans have a different emergency services number.

    6. In Never Have I Ever, Devi suspects her classmate Jonah is gay and accidentally mentions it out loud. He confirms this by referring to himself as a "baby Buttigieg".

    Stills from Never Have I Ever showing Jonah talking to Devi and Fabiola and saying No you're correct I'm a baby Buttigieg and Devi looking confused with scribbled writing on top saying me a brit
    Netflix / Via Buzzfeed

    Apart from sounding cute, this line refers to Pete Buttigieg, a former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana who was briefly in the running for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. Buttigieg is the first openly gay major presidential candidate in American history.

    7. When Abbi and Ilana visit Trey's place in Broad City for a party, they complain that he lives near somewhere called Port Authority, which is apparently hell on Earth.

    Ilana and Abbi from Broad City stand in a hallway and Ilana says why does Trey live next to Port Authority
    Comedy Central / Via Buzzfeed

    In an episode called "Hashtag FOMO", Abbi and Ilana end up in what is allegedly one of the least cool places in NYC – Port Authority. It's the busiest bus terminal in the world, and New Yorkers say it is always overcrowded, smells terrible, has no WiFi, and the buses NEVER RUN ON TIME.

    8. At the beginning of the final season of Canadian sitcom Schitt's Creek, we dive straight into Patrick and Alexis making fun of a hungover Stevie who spent the night before drinking two alcoholic drinks at the same time i.e. "double-fisting".

    Stills from Schitts Creek show Alexis talking to stevie and saying yeah I left Stevie double fisting drinks in a hot tub and Patrick replying I think I saw you triple-fisting at one point
    CBC / Via Netflix

    To me, a Brit, this sounds positively filthy! I was only able to work out through contextual clues that they meant drinking.

    9. This guy... who appears in SO MANY things!

    A split image showing the kool aid mascot bursting through a building in family guy and the mascot again in webseries unhhhh he is a big red pitcher with a smiley face
    Fox, World of Wonder / Via Buzzfeed

    I'm told he's the official mascot for Kool-Aid, an American drink mix. He would regularly appear in commercials and, as Family Guy fans know, he would smash through walls holding a pitcher and yelling his catchphrase "oh yeah!"

    10. There's a joke in The Simpsons in which Krusty is mocked for being such a bad gambler that he bet against the Harlem Globetrotters. I assumed these guys must rule the NBA and completely missed the joke.

    Fox / Via

    I was today years old when I found out that the Harlem Globetrotters aren't a real team, they do skits and trickshots for exhibition shows, and that was the gag.

    11. Is it just me or is the "DMV" always depicted in American media as some sort of hellhole? Apparently, the Department of Motor Vehicles – where you renew your driving license and other such stuff – is terrible, as seen here in Zootopia!

    Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Via

    The government agency is frequently portrayed as a bureaucratic black hole. Allegedly, it takes hours to get in and out, the buildings are run-down, and the staff don't seem especially happy to be there. Don't worry, we have those kind of places in the UK too.

    12. Perhaps, like me, you've heard this "tricks are for kids" line in lots of different things, from Kill Bill to RuPaul's Drag Race. Well, if you also thought it was just a fun little epithet, you'd be wrong! It's a reference to an American ad for breakfast cereal!

    Miramax Films, Logo TV / Via Tumblr

    Trix has run more or less the same commercial since the '50s in which their rabbit mascot attempts to eat a bowl of cereal but is discovered every time by children. They then deliver the signature strapline – "silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"

    13. There are hundreds of subtle references in Gilmore Girls but this particular moment, in which Kirk is trying to drill up enthusiasm for an egg hunt in the town square à la Howard Dean, was particularly obscure for non-Americans.

    The WB / Via Buzzfeed

    Kirk is mimicking the former Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, who ran for president back in 2004. During the Iowa Caucus, he delivered a rousing speech where he sort of screamed at the end at it highkey doomed his campaign for some reason. Nowadays, he probably would've been memed into the Oval Office

    14. When Derrick Barry read the late, great Chi Chi DeVayne during season eight of RuPaul's Drag Race, she mentioned a store that I assumed was a bargain clothing retailer, but it's actually not!

    A close up of a contestant from Drag Race in front of a bright blue background giving a talking head interview and saying this is a girl who shops at Michaels for every outfit she owns
    Logo TV / Via Buzzfeed

    Michaels is actually an arts and crafts superstore, which makes sense because Chi Chi referred to herself as a "resourceful" queen, and famously once entered the workroom in a bin-bag dress!

    15. I have no idea what this line from Troy in Community is supposed to mean, but I'm guessing it's not a compliment.

    NBC / Via

    From what I gather AT&T are a "terrible" company, so basically it's an analogy to being the absolute worst.

    16. Towards the end of Bruce Almighty, Debbie tells Bruce that her typical evening involves watching Conan. I did not put that together, and spent the rest of the movie wondering who Conan was.

    Still images from Bruce Almighty showing Bruce at his door with a woman talking to him and saying you what I do every night before I go to bed I tuck my kids in maybe have a scoop of ice cream watch conan
    Universal Pictures / Via Buzzfeed

    My most plausible conclusion at the time: Conan was another child of Debbie's who we’d never seen before. "Conan" is actually shorthand for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, a popular late-night talk show that ran on NBC from 1993 until 2009.

    17. The 555 area code you often see in American TV shows and films isn't a real code. It was left unassigned so that the US media could use it and no one watching would ever be able to dial a number on screen and reach a real person.

    Fox / Via

    I guess everyone in America knows this but I did always wonder whether any diehard fans actually called the numbers that were so often shown on screen.

    18. Remember when Emily and Richard were fighting in season five of Gilmore Girls and Emily had this to say about Reno, Nevada:

    Still images from gilmore girls showing Emily and Richard arguing Emily says I'm going to have two glasses of wine with lunch and Richard replies only prostitutes do that and then Emily replies then buy me a boa and drive me to reno
    The WB / Via Buzzfeed

    Did you know that Nevada is the only U.S. state where sex work is legal? Nevada law permits certain counties with a population lower than 700,000 to offer sex work in brothels only. Technically, it's not permitted in Reno under specific County law, but since Reno is one of the state's biggest cities, that's probably why Emily namechecks it.

    19. Another candy bar joke wasted on me comes from A Cinderella Story. Shelby sees David on his own without his Musketeer buddies and doesn't recognise his costume until he tells her he's a Three Musketeer, which is apparently the name of an American chocolate bar.

    Warner Bros. Pictures / Via Buzzfeed

    She's right though, he really doesn't look like the candy bar – least of all a three-part, chocolate-covered nougat candy!

    20. The Pottery Barn episode of Friends is one of my absolute favourites, but for all I knew Pottery Barn wasn't even a real store!

    Still from Friends in Ross stands in a living room and says your place looks like page 72 of the catalogue then in the next image he sits in his own living room and says she hates pottery barn then Pheobe standing outside says I have to buy that lamp
    NBC / Via Buzzfeed

    It was only years later that I was in an American mall and I saw one IRL! Pottery Barn is a posh American homeware store which sells premium furniture and accessories. This episode is rumoured to have been bankrolled by a substantial product placement deal, but Pottery Barn has previously stated that the infamous apothecary table was actually donated.

    21. Remember when Peter, Lois, and Meg were at a college fair in Family Guy and they dropped a really good Oral Roberts joke on us?

    A meme from Family guy of Lois and Peter and a college fair Peter sees two stands for oral roberts university and anal roberts university and says of the latter it's tough to get in there Lois and once you're in you'd be surprised how much you like it
    Fox / Via

    I loved this gag but honestly, I had no idea what was going on, which is often the case with Family Guy. Turns out Oral Roberts is an actual Christian liberal arts university in Tulsa, Oklahoma named after famous evangelist Oral Roberts. I can confirm that after a troubling Google search Anal Roberts is, by contrast, not a real college.

    22. And finally, pretty much all of Portlandia.

    IFC / Via

    Even though I love it, a heck of a lot of Portlandia goes over my head. The people of Oregon apparently have a reputation for being super woke and obsessed with everything organic, gender-neutral, and recycled. A lot of the very specific stereotype humour is wasted on a Brit, but don't let that put you off because once you're used to it, this show is HILARIOUS no matter where you're from!

    Are there any American references that went over YOUR head? Tell us in the comments below!


    Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legally permitted in some form, hence why Emily makes that reference in number 18 of this list. Thanks to our readers for pointing this out!