daily life london who am I

Living amongst the English

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

photo My friend Muriel from French Yummy Mummy became famous last weekend – she was on the cover of the Times Magazine on Saturday. She  wrote them a brilliant article about being French in England and all the things that baffle her about England and the English.

I loved reading it and found myself nodding along to most of what she was saying. It made me think how I too quite like living in London but from the 3 English speaking countries that I’ve lived in, England is the only country (I know it’s technically the United Kingdom…) where I don’t feel that I’m becoming even just a little bit English after all these years of living here  (e.g. I.do.not.drink.tea.)

Also, in America and in Australia my friends were mostly either American or Australian. Here I have many English acquaintances and some are kind of slowly starting to become good friends, but most of my good friends are actually of other nationalities. That’s partly because there just are many more nationalities living in London than there are in the midwest of America or in the quiet capital city of Australia, but it’s also probably because the English are still a bit alien to me (with all their tea drinking, how can they not be ;).

Anyway, I’m not moving anywhere anytime soon and I can very happily co-exist with the ‘natives’ here. There are many things that feel like will forever puzzle me about this country and its inhabitants. The language is one thing and to take a trip down memory lane, I’m reposting something I wrote on my previous blog about the English language and me:

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My first experience of living in an English-speaking country was America, from 1993 until 1999. After surviving the initial massive culture shock my brain unfroze after about 6 months and in a few years I got hang of the American accent – new people I met after that never asked me “where are you from?” and when I moved to DC and someone did ask me, I’d just say “Missouri” and that was the end of it.

Then I lived in Australia for 6 years and found that my originally tongue-tied tongue really appreciated that I was able to now drop the very round American r-s from my speech – Aussie English is nice and lazy :) And cute – I don’t mind at all calling Christmas Chrissie, a present pressie and a bbq barbie. Despite picking up all the cute slang (and saying ‘bloody hell’ all the time instead of my American equivalent of ‘f*cking A’) I never really got hang of the Aussie accent though… or the masterful way they make every sentence sound like a question :).

Then I decided to mess with my brain a little more – we moved to England! Yikes. They sort of sound like Aussies, meaning they definitely don’t sound like Americans (unless they’re Irish, in which case I always think they’re American :|) but it’s been over 6 years now but I honestly still can’t figure out how I need to pronounce my words here.

The good thing is that I can still say ‘bloody hell’ and it’s totally acceptable here. I’m sure I’ve started using lots of British English words in my everyday speech, it’s become so natural I cannot even come up with a list right now :) BUT – I will forever think though that pants are trousers and cookies are cookies and NOT biscuits; I will equally always say vitamin as vahy-tuh-min and not vit-uh-min, and say ketchup instead of tomato sauce. From Oz I dearly miss the word ‘daggy’ and I’m undecided still whether I want to spell ‘authorise’ or ‘authorize’.

And now I come to the few phrases that actually totally rub me up the wrong way. As many times as I hear them, they just don’t make any sense to me:

Nr1 – Washing up.

Washing up WHAT? And why UP? Well, if you’re new here in the UK, remember that it doesn’t have nothing to do with the direction of washing and that it only means washing up one particular kind of thing – it simply means “washing the dishes”. Why on earth someone would say “I’m washing up” when they could be just saying “I’m washing the dishes” is mindboggling to me.

Nr2 – Tea.

As in “dinner”. As in “what did you have for tea?”. As in “I just had lasagna for tea.” That stuff’s confusing!!!! After 6 years here I cringe every time I hear “I had x for tea”, to me it sounds like “I had apple for banana”. Don’t.Make.No.Sense. :)

Nr3 – You alright?

As in “how are you?”, or in shops “how can I help you?” “You alright” is not a sentence – it has no verb! AND – it just sounds a bit rude :|

Nr4 – Crisps.

The most difficult word to pronounce. And it just means chips… which is confusing as chips here mean fries.

Nr5. Toilet roll.

As in “I need to buy toilet roll.”  Whaaat? Why not “toilet paper” or “rolls of toilet paper”? Toilet roll just sounds too much like toilet troll.

On a positive note though, I really really like saying “lovely”. Something you’d never hear in the States or even in Oz.

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  • Sarah Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 17:03

    LOVE this post!! I may start using ‘Toilet Troll’ instead of ‘toilet roll’ now …

  • Muriel Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 20:35

    Thank you so much for this post! I am still learning too. Did you know what tepid water was? It just never stops. Oh, and I am glad that you liked the article. I didn’t know that they were going to put me on the cover until a couple of days before. The Hollande affair also helped, in a funny way!

    • MrsB Friday, 17 January 2014 at 14:24

      Hollande affair was very well timed for you!

  • otilia Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 17:39

    Oh my goodness! Well done Muriel! I want one of the magazines please!

    • MrsB Friday, 17 January 2014 at 14:24

      If I still have my copy, I can send it to you. I’ll email you if I do find it.

  • kitty Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 15:39

    I was taught very British English at school, and in addition to the language, we learned a lot about culture as well. So even though I’d spent a whole year in Australia, not that many things surprised me when I first moved to the UK. In fact, there was just one thing – the endless conversations going on around doors (keeping them open for people, thanking people for keeping them open for you, saying it’s OK etc) :)

    After a while though I got obsessed with British class system – it’s fascinating to notice the differences in people’s vocabulary, pronounciation, manners etc, and read up on the background. Two books I can definitely recommend (probably dead boring for anyone who doesn’t live around British people though):

    Kate Fox, Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
    Harry Wallop, Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System

    • MrsB Friday, 17 January 2014 at 14:27

      Thank you for the book recommendations. The class system is indeed very strong here (and if I’d still live in the States or in Oz I’d never use the word “indeed” as often as I do now :).

  • Metropolitan Mum Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 11:37

    Haha. It’s not the words that confuse me – having never lived in any other English speaking country – but the things. Like separate hot and cold taps, carpet in bathrooms, doors that don’t really shut, windows that are drafty (why bother having windows at all), hospitals that make you attract more illnesses than you came in with… What’s for tea really freaks me out, btw. Completely agree with the apple for banana thing :) xx

    • MrsB Friday, 17 January 2014 at 14:24

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds the “tea” as a meal thing weird :)

  • JenJ Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 08:55

    OMG, this is f*cking A! ;) I love it and so feel your pain. I’ve been here for nearly 8 years now and still feel more alien than I did in the US after a year. But, like you, I’ve come to accept it. Us ‘hybrid-sounding’ beings, we just make do… And to add to your list: trunk > boot, courgette > zucchini, eggplant > aubergine, dinner > lunch, parking lot > car park….

    • MrsB Friday, 17 January 2014 at 14:25

      You’re not British? I always thought you were! I knew about the studying in the US bit but where are you from then? (feel stupid asking after all this time :|)