Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An American's Guide to 'Speaking British'

As I get ready for my upcoming trip to London, I've started brushing up on my British English language skills. "What? British English language skills? Don't the Brits speak English?" While the Brits do in fact speak English, you'll find that it's not quite the same English that we speak here in the States.

So before you pack up your briefcases, suitcases and backpacks, take the time to review some of these popular British words, phrases and slang or else risk making an arse out of yourself across the pond.

  • 24 Hour Clock: Americans know it as "military time", but don't refer to it that way in the UK. This is particularly useful when navigating public transportation as well as hours of operation for tours, museums and shops.
  • Bank Holiday: Make sure you aren't out and about during a "bank holiday." Banks of course, and most businesses are going to be closed. Bank holidays include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, two Bank Holidays in May, one in August, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
  • Big Issue: If a homeless person comes up to you shouting "Big Issue!", don't fret. "Big Issue" is the UK equivalent to the "Spare Change" newspaper, which discusses the issues surrounding homelessness. The homeless people generally make about a quarter for each issue they sell, so don't be afraid to help them out.
  • "Last Orders Please!": "Last Call" in a bar. Order your last beverage now! The bartender will then shout "Time!", which means that it's too late to order another drink. You now have about 20 minutes to finish your drink. This time period is known as "drinking up time."
  • Fag: Cigarettes.
  • Cinema/Film: If you want to go and see a movie at the movie theater...you really want to go see a film at the cinema.
  • Fruit Machine: Slot machine.
  • Cashpoint Machine/Hole In The Wall: ATM
  • Holiday: Once you arrive in customs, the customs agent might ask you the purpose of your visit. If you're on vacation, avoid confusion and say that you're on "holiday."
  • Lift: If you're looking for an elevator, you should probably ask where the "lifts" are instead.
  • Mobile: Cellular phones
  • Notes: Bills (paper money) are referred to as "notes".
  • Post: In the UK, the mail is known as "the post." The post arrives in the morning. You can drop it off in a postbox located on the street corner.
  • Pub: The pub is the cornerstone of British social life. Every town has at least one. Locals frequent their neighborhood pub for a pint and a pie.
  • Queue: In the UK you never "stand in line." Instead you "queue."
  • Reception: Need fresh towels brought up to your hotel room? Don't bother looking for the number to the lobby. You're far more likely to find the number to "reception."
  • Shopping Trolley: Shopping cart
  • Tube: In London, the subway is referred to as "the tube" or simply as "the underground."
  • Way Out: Don't freak out if you can't find "the exit." Look for signs that say "way out," and you'll be just fine.
  • Loo: Looking for the bathroom? Ask where you can find "the loo," toilet or restroom. You might see signs that say "WC" or "water closet."

Knowing these basic British words and phrases will help you get by on your trip to the UK. Don't worry if you can't remember all of them. Chances are, someone will know what you're getting at if you mistakenly ask where the "bathroom" is. Just be prepared for a funny look or raised eyebrow.


Leticia said...

Hilarious, yet so true!

Lil' Boozie said...

Thanks for the comment, Leticia.. I see you're affiliated with Twenga - we may be working with you in the near future.


Troy said...

It gets worse teaching English after a time over here...you begin to forget which words you actually use naturally!

Suddenly rubbish and toilet don't start sounding odd.

Lil' Boozie said...

@ Troy, I totally hear you on that one. While not British, I grew up with some Irish family friends and found myself saying 'loo' and 'watercloset' at a young age. That didn't help me to win friends in grade school.. ha!

mike d said...

ha great list! i would also recommend not talking about your "fanny" too much.

Also, brits never really use the words "galoot", "hossenfeffer" or "flap-doodle" so don't bother with those ones.

travelingbabbling said...

There's also the confusion with chips/fries/crisps, which isn't such a problem when ordering fish-n-chips but can be a problem at the supermarket.

My favorite British-ism is the frequency of the word "bits." It turns up in all sorts of unexpected places.

And don't forget one of the biggest troubles with Britain: remembering to look the right way before crossing the street. This one STILL gets me sometimes after living here for 3 months!

Anonymous said...

In Britain they'll ask you for tin foil--or al-u-mini-um. That one always cracks me up. The trunk of your car is your boot. Speaking of which, they don't have garage sales, but boot sales. And if you're looking for a diaper, ask for a nappy. Oh, and if you're talking about a company or a group of people, use the verb "are" instead of "is" (as in BP are ruining the gulf coast with this oil spill :-)).

Lil' Boozie said...

Haha! Thank you all for your comments - it's wonderful to learn of all the idiosyncrasies that span various languages.