Monday, June 13, 2011

The King's English

"The Americans and the English -- Two peoples separated by a common language."  George Bernard Shaw

On Thursday of last week, I spent the day with a very nice British family who are moving here from England in August.  The wife will be coming to work at the company where my husband works; she's being re-located here from their British facility to work on a project in the States.  They don't have their U.S. driver's license yet, so I was asked if I would be interested in driving the husband, wife, and their ten year-old daughter to tour some of our local schools and meet with teachers, principals, etc. I would also show them where some of the different residential neighborhoods are, along with bus stops, grocery shopping, etc.  Now, I'm not a real estate agent, so I was not going to be officially showing them houses, just giving them an idea of where the neighborhoods are in relation to elementary schools and shopping and so forth.  So I said I'd be happy to drive them around town, but I was a bit nervous about it.  I can walk and chew gum at the same time with no problem.  But driving whilst (throwing in a little British-speak there) trying to point out different items of interest and talk to three people, I get a little distracted, to say the least.  I just hope I didn't scare ten years off their lives with my driving.

I've been to England once, for a week, eleven years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to talk and compare notes with this family.  We had a fun time, managed to see a large part of the town, and tour two schools.  This was actually our last week of school here, so it was rather difficult to even get appointments for the tours.

As I said, it really was fun to compare notes on the similarities and the differences between here and across the pond.  We talked about food, houses, cars, schools, shopping, movies and TV shows.  I admit I was disappointed to find that they are not Harry Potter fans.  Maybe they've been just saturated with it over there; I don't know.  But as my good friend from Mt. Airy said to me, "I'm not a fan of the Andy Griffith show, either".  Andy Griffith is a native son of North Carolina who grew up in the small town of Mt. Airy.  His TV town, Mayberry, is actually based on the real town of Mt. Airy.  Oh well, maybe she has a point there.  But back to our British family, we did talk about classic British comedies like "Keeping Up Appearances", "Are You Being Served?", and "The Black Adder" with Rowan Atkinson (one of our personal favorites).  Then we discussed the American TV shows that they watch.  They like "Frazier", "House", "Bones", and the new "Hawaii Five-O".

But the thing I probably had the most fun with was comparing the language differences.   Oh I know we both speak English, but it's not quite the same English.  And I don't mean the accents. In America, the part of the car that you lift to get to your engine is the hood; in England, it's the bonnet.  In England, what men normally wear to work are trousers; in America, they wear pants.  But oftentimes, pictures are more eloquent than words.  For example, over there this is a wheelie bin...

...over here, it's a trash can (with wheels).  Over there this is...

dust bin or rubbish bin.  Over here, it's a waste basket.  In the The King's English these would be...

...petrol prices. In Yanks' English, they're highway robbery gasoline prices.  But seriously folks, as much as we bemoan our fuel prices at the moment (and I do my share of bemoaning), they told me that they are still paying much more in England than we are in the United States.  This next one I got a kick out of; here it's the Dollar General, or the Dollar Tree, or just the Dollar Store.  Across the pond, it's...

...the Pound Store, or the 99 Pence Store, where you can get any item for a little less than a pound.  Then, we have...

...traffic circles in the States; in the U.K., they have roundabouts :)  In Britain, these are called trainers... the States, they're running shoes, or tennis shoes, or sneakers.  And last, but not least, in the King's English...

... chips, in American English, french fries; in America...

... chips, in Britain, crisps.  So it's easy to see why people can get confused when travelling in another country, even when you, technically, speak the same language.  I really enjoyed my day with the Brits; they were very polite and had a good sense of humor.  I wish them all the best in making this transition to a new country.




  1. This was just a delightful post. We had (have) some friends from England who lived here for several years while (whist) he was on a business assignment. It was just wonderful to pick up on their phrases. My sister and I still burst into our version of British accent and jargon whenever we mention or hear from the.

    Wonder why we call them french fries?

  2. I enjoyed this post this morning. I had an English aunt, she met, fell in love, and married my mom's older brother while he was stationed in the UK during WWII. When we made molasses cookies, she called it treacle. The good old days. Cheerio! xo,

  3. You'll have a huge start when you come to visit the UK again! I'm sure they loved having a local tour guide :) GREAT POST!

  4. Oh, and thank you for putting my button on your sidebar. It looks beautiful there :)



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