Vacations and Holidays in the United States

I’m about to take a vacation, so I have vacations on my mind! Here’s a post about the vacation and holiday norms of the United States.

Most employees get 2 weeks paid vacation a year. They can take it anytime they want. Some companies (like mine) give you more and also the longer you stay at a company you might get more vacation.

A great new word that we use is “Staycation”. This means that for your vacation, you stay at home and don’t go anywhere. This word was coined because of the bad economy. People cannot afford to go on big vacations these days.

I know in the UK they say, “I’m on on holiday.” We don’t say that here. When we take time off of work we call it a vacation. A holiday is a day like Christmas or 4th of July where we don’t have to work and it is a special day. The normal US holidays when most employees don’t work are: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s day, Memorial Day, 4th of July and 2 days for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are a few others that only some people get off like Columbus Day.

We also receive sick days. At my company we get 8 sick days a year. You can ‘roll them over’ to the next year and save them for an emergency.

cite, site or sight???

These 3 little words all sound the same, but they have different meanings.

cite – This is used when you quote an author in a book or paper. You ‘cite’ their work, giving them credit.

site – This is a place of something like job site or historic site. Also, it is used in Web Site.

sight – This is the ability to see, the area that you can see, or something worth seeing.

At the Airport

After I taught English in Hungary, I flew back to the United States through Germany. In Germany, the security guards asked us many questions before we boarded. The person who worked there spoke only German and English. I went through without any problems. The guy behind me only spoke Hungarian. The security person said to me, “You lived in Hungary, you translate.”

Eeek, I thought. I didn’t say anything, then the security person said, “If you can’t, then the plane isn’t leaving and we have to take all of the luggage off to make sure it’s safe.” Okay, I thought, I better try my hardest. Luckily it was fine, I translated and I flew home safely.

The moral of the story – If you fly somewhere in Europe or the US (or lots of other places), make sure you know the answers to these questions or you won’t be flying anywhere.


Security Guard – Where are you going today?
You – To the US, to Georgia.
Security Guard – Did you pack your own bags?
You – Yes.
Security Guard – Did you receive any gifts that you were asked to transport?
You – No, sir.
Security Guard – Were your bags ever out of your sight?
You – No. I was with them the whole time.
Security Guard – Do you have any electrical items packed?
You – Yes, a blow dryer, a curling iron and a portable radio.
Security Guard – Anything else?
You – No, sir.
Security Guard – Do you have any sharp objects or weapons in your bags?
You – No, sir, I don’t.

Obviously answer truthfully. The dialog above was to get you used to what the security guard would ask you.

Number Idioms

I just love using idioms! They sometimes sum things up without you having to say much! Here are some of my favorite idioms that have numbers in them.

back to square 1 – This means you have to start something all over again.
Oh man, I dropped the sauce on the floor, it’s back to square 1 for me.

better half – This means your husband or your wife, if you are married.
Brian, my husband, is my better half.

catch 22 – This is when a situation has 2 possible choices, but both outcomes might be negative.
If I stay here and play with my kids, I’ll get no work done. However, if I don’t play with them they’ll be mad at me. It’s a catch-22.

to feel like a million dollars – It means you feel very well and are doing great.
She had a great sleep last night and woke up feeling like a million dollars.

lesser of 2 evils – When 2 things are both bad, but one is not as bad as the other.
Well, I guess I’ll vote for the lesser of 2 evils.

opportunity only knocks once – This means that you only have 1 time to take advantage of something that is offered (maybe a job) because you may not get that particular opportunity again.
Speaker A – I got a job in the Peace Corp.
Speaker B – Cool, are you going to take it?
Speaker A – I don’t know.
Speaker B – You know opportunity only knocks once.

put 2 and 2 together – This means you can figure something out by putting the pieces together.
Dorthy saw the lipstick on his shirt collar and smelled perfume on his shirt that wasn’t hers. She put 2 and 2 together and realized he was having an affair.

6 of 1 and half a dozen of another – You can use this when there are 2 options or things, but there are not any big differences between the two.
Speaker A – I don’t know if I should call her a stewardess or a flight attendant.
Speaker B – It’s 6 of 1 and half a dozen of another.

3rd degree – When someone asks you very intimidating questions and they really try to make you confess to something.
Wow, I think that cop thought I committed a crime, he was giving me the 3rd degree.

Paper or Plastic?

Here’s a dialog that takes place at the check-out counter at a grocery store:

Speaker A: Hello. How are you?
Speaker B: Fine and you?
Speaker A: Fine. Paper or Plastic?
Speaker B: Plastic, please.
Speaker A: Do you have your discount card?
Speaker B: Sure, here it is. (Hands card.)
Speaker A: That will be 10 dollars and 51 cents.
Speaker B: (Runs her credit card on the credit card machine)
Speaker A: Is that a credit card or ATM card?
Speaker B: Credit.
Speaker A: Thank you, have a nice day!
Speaker B: Thank you. You too.

This is a very typical conversation that you would have with a check-out person at a grocery store in the United States.

paper or plastic – This refers to the type of bag you receive. Some people have switched to bringing their own re-useable bags. But, no matter which grocery store you go to, they will either ask you “Paper or Plastic?” or they will say, “Is plastic okay?”

discount card – For some odd reason in the United States, in the Southern States, the grocery stores each have an individual discount card. You have to use the discount card in order to receive the weekly discounts. In other states like Texas, these cards do not exist. Anyone would receive the weekly discounts.

credit card or ATM – ATM means Automated Teller Machine. The money from the ATM card comes directly out of your bank account. If you use an ATM card or pay by check you could take additional money out of your account and receive it there at the grocery store. They would ask you, “Would you like cash back?”

Getting your Hair Cut

When I lived in Hungary I needed a hair cut, but I was too scared to go into hair salon. I was so scared that they wouldn’t understand what I wanted cut and I’d end up with a Mohawk. Since I didn’t know any Hungarian at all, I ended up not getting my hair cut for months! Eventually, I got a student to go with me and help me out. What is the moral of this story? I don’t want you to end up with hair all of the way down to your knees if you visit the US. So, I’m making a post on what to say in English when you go to the hair salon.

hair salon – The place where you get your hair cut. It can also be called a barber shop, but that is only where men get their hair cut. Also, it could be called a beauty parlor, but that is only a place where women get their hair cut and it is an older phrase.

hairdresser – This is the person who cuts your hair (also called a hairstylist). A barber is the person who cuts men’s hair in a barber shop.

hairstyle terms – The cool thing about telling your hairdresser how you want your hair cut is that you can look through books they have and just point to what you’d like. I do this sometimes. Here are some English terms that might help if you want a more specific cut.

bob – This is a haircut that ends in a blunt line. Bobs are usually short.

undercut – This is how they cut your hair so that it naturally turns under without curling.

bangs – (fringe in the UK) – this is the part of your hair that covers your forehead.

layered – This is when they cut your hair in different lengths.

mullet – It’s a hairstyle mainly from the 80s. The sides were short layers and the back of the hair was long.

pixie cut – This is when your haircut is short and layered like a elf or pixie.

inches – Make sure you know your inches. Americans aren’t good with converting cms to inches, so it’s better to be safe (than sorry) and convert them before you go. 1 inch = 2.54 cm.

a wash and go style – This is an expression you can use if you want a hair style where there is nothing you need to do to it. You just wash your hair and go to work/school.

blow drying – They might ask you if you want your hair blow dried so you don’t walk out with wet hair.

styling – Depending on where you get your hair cut, styling is sometimes not included in the price. Styling consists of blow drying, curling and anything else needed to make your hair look its best.

highlights – This is what you ask for when you want a little extra color in your hair.

perm – This is what you ask for when you want them to put a permanent curl in your hair.

colored/dyed – This is what you ask for when you want all of your hair to be a different color.

Now you can practice these terms in this dialog below:

Dialog –


Hairdresser – How would you like your hair cut?

You –

Hairdresser – How many inches would you like off?

You –

Hairdresser – What should I do with your bangs?

You –

Hairdresser – Do you want it washed and styled?

You –


How did you do? Do you feel like you did okay? Let me know if you have any questions or need help!

Talking about your Cell Phone in English

I have a cell phone and the thing I use it most of is as a flashlight. I know, it is bizarre. In the middle of the night if I wake up, I can click on my phone and then I can see. The 2nd greatest use of my cell phone for me is to use it as an alarm clock. I own a regular one, but it’s too loud. Finally, the 3rd most imporant use of my cell phone is to use it as a phone. I don’t have a fancy phone, in fact it was free. My husband has an iPhone and I like to play with it from time to time. It has come in handy, more times than I can count, for helping us to find our way to a specific location using the GPS feature.

Here are all of the names we use for a cell phone: mobile phone, car phone. We also call them by their brand name: iPhone and Blackberry.

I can’t get a signal. – This means you are unable to place a call because your service isn’t working where you are at. This happens to me all of the time in the grocery store.

I can’t get service here. – This means the same as the one above.

I’m only getting 1 bar – You can talk about how many bars of reception you are getting as well.

I’m not getting good reception. – You can say this to someone when they are fading in and out or you can barely hear them.

I’m loosing you. – You can say this if the reception is getting bad, for example on an elevator or driving through the moutains.

My battery is dead. (This is my husband’s excuse for why he never answers his cell phone.)

I need to recharge my phone. This is what you do when your battery is dead.

Call me back! – A common message one leaves on someone else’s voicemail.

Ring tone – You can select different sounds for your phone when you receive a phone call.

Phone tag – If you and a friend keep calling each other and missing each other’s call, it is called phone tag. You can leave a voice mail for them like this: “Tag – you are it!”

Ordering Ice Cream

Add ImageIt’s sweltering hot outside and you need some relief. In the distance you see a ice cream parlor. “Perfect,” you think. This is just what I need. You walk into the ice cream shop and you see a gazillion different flavors. Uggghhh, how will you chose? What will you say?

You see bubblegum flavored ice cream. “Hmm,” you think. “Excuse me, how does the bubblegum ice cream taste?”

“Like bubblegum,” the worker says from behind the counter. Yes, that did not help you at all.

What you could’ve said was: “Can I have a taste of the bubble gum ice cream?” or “Could I have a sample of the bubble gum ice cream?” Ice cream parlors will always give you a sample of the ice cream. Usually on a very cute tiny plastic spoon.

You like this bubble gum ice cream. It’s different to you. “I’d like to order some bubble gum ice cream, please,” you tell the worker.

“Well, how much?” He says impatiently.

Do you know what to say to him? Give it a shot. Say what you think you’d say to him…

Here are some expressions you could say:

I’d like 2 scoops. (Depending on the shop, some scoops are really big.)

You also need to say if you’d like it in a cone or in a cup.

And could you put it in a cup please?

Oh, I’d like it in a cone. (You usally can choose a waffle cone or a sugar cone.)

But…are you hungrier for more than just a few scoops of ice cream? You could order:

A sundae – It is usually 2 scoops of ice cream with chocolate syrup drizzled on it. Then, it has whipped cream and a cherry on top.

A banana split – This has 3 scoops, one of chocolate, one of vanilla and one of strawberry then they cut open a banana and place ½ on each side. It is topped with whipped cream (maybe some chocolate syrup) and a cherry on top!

There are also other things you could order like shakes (ice cream blended with milk for a smooth drink) and ice cream floats (Soda poured over ice cream in a tall glass).

My favorite is a root beer float! What’s yours?

How to write a sequence of events…

What do you eat for breakfast in the morning? Do you eat the same thing every morning?

I eat cereal almost every day. Yes, I know that’s boring. But, I buy different kinds of cereal. Sometimes a rice cereal in the shape of hexagons, sometimes frosted corn flakes, or maybe a peanut butter ball cereal. Regardless of the kind, it’s the same routine every morning.

First, I take out a bowl from the cupboard. If there are none, I take a clean one out from the dishwasher. I put the bowl on the counter. Then, I walk to the fridge and I take out the skim milk. I pour the cereal in the bowl, followed by the milk. Next, I carry the bowl and walk to the drawer with the silverware. I open it and grab a spoon. Finally, I walk to the table, sit down and eat it.

And there you have it, my breakfast routine. What’s yours? Try to say or write out your breakfast routine, using words like “first, then, next, lastly, finally, etc.” This is good practice for writing out sequences.

Believe it or not, this is very important to do if you’d like to get a job in the United States. Lots of companies have a question like this to see how you write things in steps. For my current job, I had to answer this question: “How do you brush your teeth?” What they are looking for are details! So practice here to make sure you can give those details in English!

Ordering at a restaurant

When my husband and I travel to different countries, we always make sure we know how to say 1 key phrase in the language of that country. The 1 phrase is: Beer, Please. It has come in handy! With that aside, there are other phrases that are useful when ordering food and drinks at a restaurants.

Look at this menu and try to work through the dialog below.


Stuffed Mushrooms (order of 5) – $6
Hamburger with Avocado Slices -$10
Tofu Hot Dog with Relish- $5
Split Pea Soup and Garden Salad – $4
Fries Covered in Chili- $2
Hushpuppies – $3
Coke – $2
Iced Tea – $2
Milk – $1

A waiter comes up to you and asks you questions. Answer him in whichever way you would like:

Waiter – Hello. How are you today?
You –
Waiter – Are you ready to order?
You –
Waiter – What would you like to have today?
You –
Waiter – and to drink?
You –
Waiter – And while you are waiting, would you like an appetizer?
You –

There are many different ways to order food, here are just a few ways that you could’ve answered:

I’d like to order a hamburger.

I’d like some hushpuppies, please.

Could I order a hamburger with extra pickles.

May I have everything on the menu! I’m starved!

A hamburger, please. And a side of fries. (Side is short for side order. It’s something you eat along with the main course.)

I want a hamburger, hold the onions. (Hold the onions means that they don’t want onions on the hamburger. You can say ‘hold’ for anything. Hold the mayo. Hold the mustard, etc.)

I think I’ll have some iced tea, as well.

Just water please, tap water.

hmmmm, and a coke. (On a side note, if you order iced tea in South Carolina and many Southern states, they will ask you, “Sweetened or Unsweetened?” Sweetened is super sweet iced tea sweetened with sugar. In other states like Texas and in the West and North, you will simply get unsweetened tea.)

One other thing – if you order a drink, you will get it with ice. So, if you don’t want ice you will have to say, “No ice please.”

Never heard of hushpuppies? Here is an article about them: