January 31st. The Union Jack flag is removed from the European Parliament in Brussels. Disappointed Remainers wave goodbye to the European Union, while Brexiteers cheerfully chant words of freedom, sovereignty and independence. I find this political carol somewhat paradoxical, coming from the country that has ruled and administered over 60 territories throughout the course of history. Anyhow, enjoy your newfound freedom – and see you soon, Scotland.
Just when I thought I had figured out British accents, I encountered yet another linguistic challenge in the UK: the abundant lexicological differences between the American English that I grew up with, and the vocabulary that Brits actually use in their day-to-day lives.
Most commonplace words are fairly easy to figure out: lift, loo, biscuit, rubbish, parcel, jam… no problem there. But some might be a a bit trickier. So, without further ado, here are some book illustrations depicting memorable awkward situations 1 .
For instance, Brits refer to pants as “trousers”. If you find yourself in a clothing store and indicate that you don’t wear pants, they’ll think that you are THAT weirdo who goes through life without ever using underwear.
There was also the time when a colleague invited me to a party after work, and immediately thereafter asked if I had a rubber. Of course he meant eraser, not the birth control item. I’m glad someone clarified this to me and no one had to be reported to human resources…
If someone offers you a meal from their boot, don’t be grossed out. They mean their car trunk 2.
Truth be told, learning these lexical differences turned out to be an amusing experience. What I didn’t find that amusing was the self-righteous attitude of linguistic supremacy that some Brits hold towards British English.
My colleagues, polite as they might have been, always felt the need to point out my spelling “mistakes”. An acquaintance gave me a list of British shows in the hope that I would “get rid of that horrifying American accent”. Some even told me that, whenever they heard someone speaking American English, they automatically deem them to be uneducated folks 3.
But here’s the thing: thinking that your version of the language is the quintessence, the most lustrous and the only one acceptable is like saying that X is the best food or Y is the best book ever written. There are tons of delicious meals, thousands of inspiring books and multiple versions of any given language, each as fascinating and enriching as the next. Diversity is key.
I wonder if it’s an island thing.
Do you have a preferred version of English? Do certain accents have positive or negative connotations for you? Leave a comment!
“Getting around in the UK will be a piece of cake, I’m already fluent in English!” – Boy, was I wrong. I had to learn how to read between the lines, a skill only found in the British genome.
You see, successful communication in Britain is all about the implied meaning rather than what is actually said. In fact, Brits are the best at not getting to the point. But worry not! Here is a comprehensive guide to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.
If you liked this strip, check out British sinks.
Before relocating to Britain, I truly believed that getting around would be a piece of cake, mostly because I already spoke English – or so I thought. Then the Geordie accent happened. From being greeted with “Alreet wor kid?” to deciphering my roommates’ conversations, the accent in Newcastle certainly posed a few challenges that I hadn’t anticipated.
– “I’m heading to [my] bed, I’m really exhausted, mate.”
– “You are kidding, man! We are going down town tonight to get wasted!
In addition, there’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to accent diversity in this country. Brits happen to change their accents depending on who they are talking to. John Doe could be talking to their colleagues in RP 4, switch to Cockney when he phones that friend from London and later on chat up his neighbors in Geordie. Linguistic chameleons at their finest.
This skill certainly makes communication much easier, since most Brits will rapidly switch to RP when they notice that you are not from town. Besides the occasional befuddlement when Geordies interact with one another, you’ll be just fine getting around.
If you liked this strip, check out British Sinks.
I’m not going to get started on the terrible financial consequences of Brexit on the UK. My condolences today are with the British expats living in the EU as well as the European citizens who live in the UK.