Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alright?

Copied from my MySpace blog. Originally posted September 27, 2006

A little over ten years ago, my girlfriend (who would later become my wife) saw an ad in the newspaper advertising job openings for teachers in London, England. So, off we went. We spent two years living in London, with her teaching and me cooking and doing some other stuff. We had lots of opportunities to travel throughout the UK and around Europe.

In honour of the 10-year anniversary of our departure from Canada, I am going to try to do a few blogs about our adventures. This is the first one. Here it goes:

If you are planning on heading to England from North America, the first thing you should do is learn how to speak English. Seriously. Because what we speak here is not the same language they speak there. We call it English, but it's not the same.

I will save you some research and offer some tips on learning to speak English like the English do.

First, even though in North America, we tend to pronounce the letter W when it is in the middle of a word, they don't. And they will laugh at you if you do. Don't go up to a ticket seller in a tube station and ask for a ticket to Chiswick station. Even though that's how it's spelled. Ask for Chisick. And it's not Dionne Warwick. Her name is pronounced Dionne Warrick. I'm telling you, they will laugh at you.

What's that I said back there? Tube station? That's right. It's not a subway. It's The Tube. But you probably know that, if you watched any news coverage of the London bombings last year.

Another thing you should know is that pants are not pants. I mean, what we call pants, they call trousers. And what we call underwear, they call pants. That can lead to confusion. I once walked into a store and asked the clerk to help me find a nice pair of pants that I could wear to the office, as well as casually. He looked at me like I was a freak and took me to the underwear section and said "I don't think it really matters where you wear them. They're just pants!" I felt silly. Remember the underwear=pants, pants=trousers thing and you can avoid feeling silly too.

Here in North America, when we say "are you alright?" it's because we suspect there is a reason that the person might not be alright. For instance, if they are looking sad. Or if they have fallen. In the UK, it is a friendly greeting. It tends to come out more like "alright, mate?" to which the answer is always "yeah, alright." Even if you say something more North American, like "how are you today?" the answer will usually be "yeah." That made me feel confused several times.

But not as confused as the lady who I saw fall on the tube platform one day. She had gotten on the train at Acton Town station. She thought she was on the Uxbridge train, but she was on the Heathrow train. The driver said "This is the Heathrow train. All passengers for Uxbridge, change here." But instead of then giving people the chance to get off, it came out more like "ThisistheHeathrowtrain.AllpassengersforUxbridgechangehere. Standclearoftheclosingdoors" with the doors closing as he said it.

She jumped from her seat and lunged out through the closing doors. She made it, but landed in the gap between the train and platform (MIND THE GAP!). It looked like she might have broken her leg. I ran up to her, and out of concern for her safety, I blurted out "Are you alright?" This would be the equivilant of going up to someone in Toronto who has just broken their leg and saying "hey, how are you today?"

She looked at me like she wanted me to die, and then the station guard guy came along and told me to clear off while he helped her. I felt silly. Again.

The last tip in today's English lesson is to learn how to ask someone for a cigarette in English. This is important even if you don't smoke, because you don't want to be caught off-guard when someone stops you on the street and asks you for a cigarette.

Around these parts, you would say something like "could I bum a smoke?" Not in England.

If you are brand new to England, and someone comes up to you at Picadilly Circus and says "Excuse me, mate. Could I pinch a fag?" He is not coming on to you. Do not respond by saying that you are perfectly fine with that, and have no problem with whatever two consenting adults do, but that you are straight. You will feel silly. Stupid even.

Either say "sorry, I don't smoke" or say "sure" and give the kind gentleman a cigarette. "Pinch a fag" does not mean what you think it means. Really.

It is also useful to note that when you come back to North America, you should practice saying "bum a smoke" again. You do not want to be in some sports bar and ask someone if you can pinch a fag. And don't ask in a half-English, half-Canadian way either. Then it comes out as "Could I bum a fag?"

Unless that's really what you want, and I'm ok with whatever two consenting adults decide to do with each other. But I'm straight.

19 comments:

Sharon said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

I visited London (and Chiswick) for a brief weekend stop-over a few years ago and learned the pants rule. I am currently wearing pants and trousers!

P.S. I love you Lloyd. You make me chuckle and sometimes even laugh uproariously.

D~ said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

nice, good tips. yeah i've been there a few times, i almost bought some mind the gap "pants" lol

Pumpkin Noggin said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

Right, mate, you'll fit in well, you will.



Cheers.

Zorbing forever! said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

hahaha, hey alright?? heheh, that was a good read. I've often heard British people complain of how the american's "get it wrong" but rarely here stories from a US citizen's point of view :-)
Some other words I can think of that might confuse some of you:


Sidewalk = "pavement"
Restroom (you say that right?)= "toilets/loos/the shitter"
Candy = "sweets"
Trunk (of a car) = "Boot"
Hood (of a car) = "Bonet"
Football = "American Football"
Soccer (as it's known in pretty much every country except the UK!) = "Football"


and if you ever have the time, come visit Wales, where "Alright" is another way of saying "I've acknowledged you but really don't want to talk to you"!

alison said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted October 17, 2006

I'm from Wales and I can confirm that saying 'Alright' to someone is just another way of saying hello.It doesn't mean I can't be arsed to say anything else to you. We Welsh are polite thank you :o)

Brooks said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

You never cease to make me laugh, Lloyd!!

RoRo said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

youre a funny ass dude. i dont smoke but i will tell ppl in london "take that fag out of your mouth!" and "you are such a fag-pincher!" just to be obnoxious. i will probably also do somethin like ask for pants when i mean trousers. i should probably record the latter as my friends here in boston might find it funny.

It wasn't MY idea. said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

Good one! I love comparisons of english to english. we had an austrialian exchange student live with us for a year and I can't tell you how many times we made her laugh by saying "I am so pissed right now!!!" To us - we were angry. To her - we were drunk!

ANGELAAA said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted October 21, 2006



Funny thing! When I'm angry, I usually say "I'm so pissed off." It's a very common thing to say here, in America. But to the English, "piss off" or "pissed off" are taken as curse words! Hah!

Tracey said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

This is so true! And funny. I'm Australian, but I get where you're coming from. I can't wait to get to England and giggle at the humourous language differences.. as well as the accents..
Good blog... keep them coming!!

and we will take the streets back through ART™ said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

lol this is hilarious, ive heard peopel say what americans speak is not english

but i didnt kno there was such a diffrence

helen said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 28, 2006

I read that....lol the bit about 'pants' - the shop assistant was either winding you up mate, or he misunderstood you. Pants are trousers and undies/knickers/boxers are underwear. The shop assistant probably noticed that you're North American and thought that was what you meant, because i've always thought 'pants' in America was underwear.

Also, you alright' can be a greeting or as it's said - it just needs to be in context. If someone hurts themselves (like the poor lady on the tube) and you say 'are you alright' it means 'are you alright' and not 'hello'.

Lloyd said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 28, 2006

The pants thing must be a conspiracy then. Because the shop assistant got everybody else that I ever met in England in on it!

Jolie said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 27, 2006

Don't ever refer to your "money belt" as a "fanny pack." Trust me.

Lloyd said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 28, 2006

I wish I had remembered the fanny thing. I think I will have to do a part two. Thanks for reminding me!

ANGELAAA said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted October 21, 2006

Too funny! I was arguing with my ex about this once. My ex was English.

In America, "fanny" means your "rear end." But "fanny" in England, refers to your crotch!!! Haha.

I also think it's funny how English folks say "bum" and "arse". We say "ass." They laugh at us for it, because "ass" to them, means a donkey or something.

Geez.

James said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted September 28, 2006

Hi, im a Londoner

I gotta laugh, all through your story i was thinking you dont want to go into a bar in the USA and say "can i smoke fags in here" and there it was at the end of your story from your side of the water. The pants thing was very funny to, never thought of that one.

ANGELAAA said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted October 21, 2006

Hahaha. So true!

Also, here in America, we say the word "sure" sometimes, to mean "certainly," or "okay." Like for instance, if someone asked you: "Can you open the door for me?" You would respond with: "sure." But in England, "sure" is taken in the question sense. So when you say "sure," they're really thinking "sure?".

So this is what a dialogue between an American and an English person would be like:

English person: "Can you open the door for me?"
American: "Sure!" (You say "sure," they think "sure?")
English person: "Yes."

Hah! Those crazy English people. Here are some other words, that they butcher:

1) "Biscuits" to them, are cookies. To us, they're a form of bread.
2) "Chips" to them, are french fries. To us, they're potato chip snacks.
3) We say "sneakers," to refer to athletic shoes. They say "trainers."
4) They say "innit" a lot. I believe it means "isn't it." But to an American, it just sounds like "in it."

There are more, but I just can't think of any at the moment.



~A

Keys said...

Comment copied from Lloyd's MySpace blog. Comment posted November 1, 2006

Brilliant. I'm a Londonner and yeah, we laugh at the bloomers that Americans come out with.

Actually though, although we do call the rest room the toilet, more commonly we call it the bog.

If a cockney asks you if he can "use your dog" it's not some weird kind of perversion. It's cockney rhyming slang; dog and bone - phone.

Ass is actually the same in the north. It's only us southerners that say arse. Perhaps Americans are all descended from northerners!

And finally, saying you're "pissed off" here means exactly the same thing here as it does there but is not something you say in "polite" circles as it's regarded as being seroiusly common. Telling someone to "Piss off" will probably get you a good kicking. Taking the piss is nothing like taking a piss. If you accused of the former you are seriously making someone "pissed off" whereas if you are taking a piss you should be in the bog.