a post actually about england, since, um, we did move here

Now that I am working at a London-based firm, I have even more intensive daily exposure to just how different British English is from American English. Since we moved here in February, my brain is on constant guard to make sure I know what people are talking about. An even bigger concern now is to make sure I am understood. What if by accident I tell someone to use the ‘pound key’ on the phone, or that I ‘checked’ certain boxes on a form? There could be dire consequences.

Just a few that I am processing lately:

  • keen on: very excited about something, or not…
  • chat up lines = pick-up lines
  • ginger = redhead
  • fortnight: unit of time by two weeks, used CONSTANTLY
  • hash key = pound key/sign
  • tick = check mark
  • remit, as a noun: ??I’m not even sure about this one
  • sort: “Thanks for telling me where the office supplies are, now I’m sorted.”
  • muck about: to spend time idly
  • muck up: bungle or ruin
  • “hospital pass” = expression meaning unwinnable case; annoying project dumped on someone
  • “don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs” = expression meaning a caution against offering advice to someone wiser or more knowledgeable than one’s self. Or as my IT trainer said to us, in response to the fact that she wasn’t going to teach us computer basics, “It’s not as though I’m going to teach your grandmother to suck eggs.” I kept worrying I hadn’t heard her correctly.

And then this totally different way of talking about lawyers in firms. Instead of lawyer/attorney, it’s trainee, qualified, fee-earner. Everybody went to uni and when they leave a job, there’s a handover, and when they start they’re a new joiner. I think. And… I… well… maybe I should have paid closer attention to Ricky Gervais in the BBC’s The Office.

I feel annoyed that during the American Revolution, the colonists clearly decided to change words for no good reason.

Patriot to fellow American militiaman: I don’t like the look of that British soldier’s trousers. I think we should kill him by bayonet, and also change the word to pants.

It’s bad enough I am learning a new language. Then throw in learning a completely new job and my inability to discern accents, and I am a constant mess. I went to a work happy hour last night (someone’s leaving do) where I didn’t know a soul. I was patting myself on the back for being so outgoing and fearless. This girl asked me to guess her accent, and truthfully it sounded so nice and normal. So to not offend her at all, I said, “I am guessing you are from London originally.” Turns out she’s from New Zealand. And I don’t think she wants to be my new best friend. So I’m still looking.



Filed under culture clash

3 responses to “a post actually about england, since, um, we did move here

  1. Yikes – that’s quite the learning curve.

    BTW, I can tell you where “hospital pass” comes from. It’s a rugby term – when you make a shitty, lobbing pass to your team mate to avoid getting hit, who then just gets killed when it finally comes down to him. At least that’s the context that I’ve heard it in.

  2. Have you started saying “Tuesday week” and “half seven” yet? You just wait. I go home and start talking after a mere 22 months here and my family and friends are completely befuddled. I have picked up waaaaay too many of these!

  3. mira

    Ditto on “hospital pass”…only in soccer we call it hospital ball. As in “that was a total hospital ball” — when someone makes the crappiest pass ever and it’s going to send someone to the hospital if they tried to receive it/trap it, etc. cause they’ll get hurt going for it.

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