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Understanding the Brits

I thought I spoke English pretty well. That is, until I went to England. One thing about the English; they speak English really, really well. It's not the same as our English and we're going to explore why.

First of all, they don't know how to spell. Harbor is harbour, color is colour, humor is humour, labor is labour, fiber is fibre, center is centre and organize is organise. The British are overly fond of the letter “u”. We're much more efficient here in America and it wasn't long before we realized that “u” is often a “u”seless letter. Get it? For some reason they think adding all of those “u”s makes them more sophisticated. I think it just causes them valuable extra time typing letters that aren't needed.

Here we all know what pudding is. Not so in England. In England pudding refers to dessert. Over there, a real pudding is referred to as a custard. All desserts are puddings but not all puddings are desserts. For example, Yorkshire pudding is a popover that goes great with roast beef and is not a dessert. Neither is black pudding which is made from blood and no self respecting American would eat it. A pie is also a pudding but not always. They have mince pie which has no mince, which is minced meat, but does have mincemeat which has no meat.

As long as we're talking about food, let us speak of potatoes. Chips are cut up potatoes which are then fried unlike french fries which are cut up potatoes and then fried. See the difference? Fried fish comes with chips but not fries. Real thin chips are crisps instead of what we call potato chips. If you order fish and chips you get large french fries and not potato chips. This is true in both countries.

In England, biscuits are not biscuits, they're cookies. Cookies aren't cookies, they're digestives. I was in a store in London many years ago when I was approached by a store employee who noticed the puzzled look on my face. “May I help you, sir?”, he inquired. “Yes, please. I'm looking for cookies”. “Ah”, he said, “you mean digestives.” “No, I want cookies.” You can see where this was headed. I felt trapped in an Abbott and Costello routine.

In England, you don't come home late at night drunk, you come home pissed as a fart. I still don't really know what that means but that's what they say. Getting up early in the morning is getting up at sparrow fart. The Brits must love fart jokes so I guess we have that in common.

If you tease someone in America, the Brits would say you were taking the mickey or taking the piss. I suspect they're overly concerned about bodily functions.

In England, fanny is a slang word for vagina. You can imagine the reaction I got when I was talking about American football to some British friends and I described how we celebrate a good play. I told them that players sometimes patted each other on the fanny. Stunned silence. Never mind how they doubled over with laughter when I described a fanny pack.

For some reason, instead of saying there you have it, they say “Bob's your uncle”. I'm not sure even they understand why. Sometimes they throw in “and Fanny's your aunt” which would mean what you had just said is complete. I don't think it has anything to do with the definition of fanny above, but I'm probably wrong and just don't understand.

Things aren't stolen in England, they're nicked. A wrench is a spanner. When women go out for a glass of wine or three, they don't chat, they chinwag. If someone is really upset, they throw a wobbly. They don't have pharmacies, they have chemists. They don't have liquor stores, they have off-license stores. They don't have toilet paper, they have loo paper. They don't take vacations, they take holidays.

Of course, we confuse the heck out of them as well. If we say something is for the birds, they expect us to fill the bird feeder. Put up your dukes sounds to them like we want them to use the Royal family as a bet. Bought the farm must be a real estate deal. They don't understand how you can shoot the breeze. Putting your John Hancock on a document only gets you a blank stare. Zucchini is known in England as a courgette. Gasoline is petrol and a realtor is an estate agent.

In any event, the Lovely Louise is on her way back home for her annual English fix and every time she returns I find she has renewed her very Britishness and it's going to be a few days before I understand what the heck she is trying to say to me.


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