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.