I absolutely relish the challenge and adrenaline rush of trying to communicate in languages other than my own. We had so much fun in Italy doing our best to learn a little Italian and laughing at ourselves in the process. But we have been in the United Kingdom since the middle of November – you know…. England…where they speak ENGLISH, right?? This, of course, is my mother tongue. I expect to understand people, signs, communication and correspondence. My expectations continue to be dashed, however; and I am surprised, confused, and wonderfully amused by the differences between American and British English. We are having so much fun still laughing at words and terms that we don’t immediately understand even in our native language.
Going to the grocery store is an adventure. We did quite a bit of our own cooking at our last housesit in Blandford Forum so we spent many hours wandering the aisles of Tesco, Morrison’s and Mark’s & Spencer’s looking for things that would have been easy to find at HEB or Walmart. We had some great meals but it was often a bit of a treasure hunt finding substitutions for things that are easy to find in the States. We asked in what we thought was very plain and proper English where to find specific items – and people were often dumbfounded by our questions while they complimented our accent. Powdered sugar is icing sugar here, Saran wrap is cling film, a shopping cart is a trolley, wax paper is greaseproof paper and sprinkles for cookies are hundreds and thousands. When I asked for Q-tips or cotton swabs we figured out that these are called cotton buds in England. A Band Aid is an Elastoplast. I would not have known to ask where the Elastoplasts are located. It’s odd seeing signs to identify the contents of each aisle and note that one is filled with nappies (diapers) and another is stocked with crisps (potato chips) of every flavor including cheese & onion, prawn cocktail and smokey bacon & Sunday roast potato.
We had an awesome conversation with our Workaway hosts in Ambleside talking about kitchen faucets. Greg was helping to renovate their kitchen and they put the countertop and sink in temporarily to see what it all would look like. I asked if they already had a faucet picked out or if they still needed to get one and they returned my gaze with completely blank stares. For a while they really didn’t quite know what I meant. I think in the U.K., a faucet is something used outside – perhaps for a hose. But a tap is what you use to access water for the kitchen sink. Who knew? I didn’t – but I do now, and am reminded of our comical conversation when I see a tap in a pub or a faucet in a kitchen or bathroom.
Driving is nuts – especially with Greg at the wheel. He’s actually done an amazing job mastering the roads here but has nearly developed a new language of his own in the process. Much to my chagrin (especially when the kids were little) Greg swears with gusto and artistry when driving. Since we have been here he has added new flourish to his cursing, especially when he’s behind the wheel. We sometimes hit hiccups with terminology along the way when we encounter new terms on the road and literally wonder what we are reading. Of course, we are familiar with boot as trunk and petrol as gas but calling a trailer a caravan, a truck a lorry, a turn signal an indicator and the shoulder on a road the verge were all new terms for us.
We have encountered lots of other amusing differences in the way we interpret the English language. Some more differences include white spirit for paint thinner, sellotape for scotch tape, jumper for sweater and engaged for busy/occupied (as on a restroom door). But one of the funniest conversations we had over language differences involved the word “fanny.” My family makes fun of me because I don’t care for the word “butt.” I find it a bit crude and think there are lots of other better words one can use to refer to one’s derriere – words like bottom, rear end or indeed, fanny. I had absolutely no idea that the word fanny here in England is a woman’s most intimate part of her body. Yes, it refers to her vagina. This gives the term “fanny pack” an entirely new meaning, doesn’t it? Imagine the twittering British adolescent school boys in their public-school uniforms (a public school in the UK would be a private school in the US) laughing with glee at the term "fanny pack" and you have an idea of the discussion we had with our Workaway host who is an employee at a public school outside of London.
We have so enjoyed hearing a person on the radio talk about a fancy dinner as “posh nosh” and a sign outside a sewing shop advertising knicker making parties. No kidding! Menus can be funny too. Maybe you would like a bap for lunch -- you can have a bacon bap or a sausage bap, with our without brown sauce. A bap is a bun -- so really, we're talking about a bacon or sausage sandwich on a bun.....but we had to ask what the word even meant before we could order! We love all this so much. The list goes on and on. We have enjoyed discovering the differences and look forward to more of the same as we plan to be in the UK through March when we will move on to Berlin and then Poland and Italy. We are indeed feeling like a stranger in a strange land even though here we supposedly speak the same language!
Are you planning a trip somewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!