We are one people separated by a common language*
It was embarrassing. I didn’t know any better. I had never been to England before. In fact, at the time, I didn’t even know anyone up close and personal who was from England.
It all started several years ago when I was invited to do some work in northern England. I was to be there for two weeks and was to stay with a nice family, the Partingtons, in Morley, a suburb of Leeds, which is in Yorkshire. On that trip I discovered that most of the people in Great Britain talk funny and most of the people in the rest of Great Britain think the people from Yorkshire talk funny. In particular, the people from Lancashire (who also talk—well, funny) think the people from Yorkshire talk excruciatingly funny. Perhaps as a result they fought the War of the Roses. So, anyway, I was in a double funny part of the country.
The Partingtons picked us up at the Leeds airport and took us to their small but comfortable home. We chatted for a while, had tea, chatted more, had dinner, and when it began to get dark around 10:30 PM, the wife and I started making sleepy sounds because we were ready to go to bed. As we were starting upstairs for bed, Phillip (the daddy Partington) casually asked, “When do you want to be knocked-up?” I was taken by surprise and the wife actually started choking. I thought this to be a very personal question from someone we had just met and, furthermore, the question was rather crudely put. In short order the communication problem was remedied and we learned our first lesson: how the Yorkshire folks describe a wake-up call.
The second major lesson came two days later, on a Sunday, when a group
of about 20 people were on a bus headed for Scarborough, a resort town
on the North Sea. On the trip to Scarborough the following conversation
The final major lesson on this trip occurred at someone else’s expense. A friend of mine, a preacher from Montgomery, Alabama, was in Leeds to preach a series of sermons at a relatively small church not affiliated with the Church of England. I felt obligated to go hear one of his sermons. He was having a particularly eloquent night. As he was holding forth on the social responsibilities of Christians, he got louder and more enthusiastic. He really warmed to his subject, waving his arms and practically shouting, “We need to go get acquainted with every dirty bum on the streets of Leeds!” There was a collective and very noticeable intake of congregational breath. From that experience I learned what the Brits call their butts.
I don’t know how many of you have been to England or how many might be going in the near future, but for those of you planning the trip, I am going to provide an invaluable service that will allow you to communicate with the English folks without embarrassment.
First, you need to be able to talk about food and drink. For instance, at breakfast you might be asked, “ Do you like tummies?” The Englishperson isn’t inquiring about you feelings toward an anatomical feature but rather if you would like tomatoes—a fairly common component of an English breakfast. A “banger” is a sausage. French fries are called “chips” and potato chips are “crisps.” If you want a cookie or a cracker, you should order a “biscuit.” A good old southern type biscuit is a “scone.” If someone offers you some “chockie,” take it. It’s chocolate. What we call jelly is almost universally referred to as “jam” and if you ask for “jelly” you will get jello. An appetizer is a “starter.” If you want strong beer order a “stout.” If you want to be really cool order your stout by brand name like, “I’ll have a pint of Guinness.” A generic alcoholic drink is often called a “bevvy.” If you want food to go you really want “takeaway.” Finally, what the English call “steak and kidney pie” is really made from that internal organ most consider the garbage dump of the body. If you are squeamish about eating disgusting organs that manufacture you know what, then order “bangers” and don’t ask what’s in them.
When you are in conversation with your British hosts you will hear some expressions that Americans consider a bit unusual and occasionally intimidating. If you are discussing politics and someone says “bang on” they are saying you’re exactly right. If it’s going to happen immediately it will take place “straight away.” Suppose you attend a cricket match that might last 2 or 3 days and end with a score of 145 to 158. Your English friends might say “That was a belter”—a really exciting event--while you would probably think it was more exciting to watch algae form on the north side of trees. The subway is called “the tube” and an underground pedestrian passage is a “subway.” When the tube doors open a synthesized voice will remind you to “mind the gap”(watch your step). Gasoline is “petrol.” If you are having car trouble, a passing good Samaritan might ask if you looked under the “bonnet” (the hood) or checked “the boot” (the trunk). If you are going from the first floor of a building to the tenth, take the “lift.” When you get there you might want to take a potty break, in which case you would visit the “loo” or the “lav.” The discussion of money gives you many options. You can talk about “brass,” “bunce,” “lolly,” “readies,” “lookah,” or “quid” (which is really a specific monetary unit but is often used as a generic term). If you call someone on the telephone, you are using the “blower.” Most of the English have “knockers” on their front doors.
So if you go to Merrie Olde England, be sure to take your knickers, avoid dealing with dirty bums, try not to get knocked-up at an indecent hour and finally, whatever you do, don’t tell an English mother that her sweet looking kid is a cute little “bugger”.
*Technical consulting services were provided by an Englishperson who
is willing to work for food, provided the food is really good.