British Lessons

Well, now that Scotland is staying in the United Kingdom for at least a few more years, life has pretty much not changed at all. Yet.

Which means that I continue forward going to work five days a week, that I am still pondering whether to get into the film industry in London, Glasgow, Germany, or Hollywood.

And I’m still making observations about the Scottish people and country. Which is what I will talk about today.

It’s officially been over a year since I’ve lived here. Now more than ever I’m running into all kinds of people by working in a tourist shop. No one that I work with is British, but they all learned English (or improved their English) here. Which has made for some interesting British English lessons.

So here are some words that I have picked up on over the last year, that are making a permanent home in my vocabulary.

Ill vs Sick

If you say sick, people still get it. But sick could also mean vomit, the noun, not the verb. So I’ve had enough moments of minor confusion that I’ve switched over to saying “I feel ill” instead of “I feel sick.”

Hoover vs vacuum

This one irritated me for a long time. Why on earth call it a hoover? It’s a vacuum. By the definition of physics, it is a vacuum, and Hoover is a brand. Plus the word hoover is ugly to say. It makes my lips tingle unpleasantly because they do not want to make those sounds in a row. But then I realized that America did the same thing with band-aids. It’s a brand, not the actual product. I still don’t call Band-aids plasters like the British do, but after a few incidences of “should we vacuum now” and my co-workers giving me a completely blank expression, I’ve switched to hoover, and we get the job done. By the way, Henry is the model we have at my store. Isn’t he cute?

Have as a helping verb

This is a totally subconscious sneak-attack ninja vocabulary change. I feel like the British just use have as a helping verb far more often than Americans do. Or they just use the perfect tense more often than Americans do. Next time you’re with a group of high-spirited friends, put on some fake British accents and have a conversation. Count how many times you use have as a helping verb. I guarantee it will seem unnaturally high. Conversely, if you’re British, put on a fake American accent and count how many times you use have, and it will probably seem a bit low.

Toilet vs bathroom

“I’m going to the bathroom to use the toilet”…I’m sure that’s the sentence that got chopped down to “I’m going to the toilet.” My discomfort with this is based on American social rules which are much more “hush-hush” about bodies than European ones. Because to me, if you say “I’m going to the toilet” it is unquestionable what you are going to do, whereas if you say “I’m going to the bathroom” you could be touching up make up, making a phone call, brushing your teeth, who knows? But British people would say “I’m going to the toilet” for any of those things as well, because the toilet is a room and not a porcelain throne within a room. So slowly but surely, I’ve gotten used to this one and it’s probably not leaving my vocabulary for a long time. (By the way, did you notice my use of the perfect tense in that sentence requiring me to use have as a helping verb? I could’ve said “I got used to…” but I went for the option using have instead! I told you, it’s a ninja grammar attack!)

Pound and pence vs dollars and cents

Obviously, pounds are not dollars nor pence cents. However, I hear Americans in my shop all the time saying “forty-five dollars? Too much for a scarf.” No, my dear American friends. That’s forty-five pounds. Which is hovering around seventy-five dollars. Definitely too much for a scarf (but we sell them every day regardless). However when I first got here, I had to make a conscious effort to say pounds or pence (affectionately shortened most often just to the letter p) instead of dollars. Now I think I will have a hard time saying dollars again when I’m back in America. Because it feels awkward even typing dollars. Like what the heck is a dollar anyway? And why is it spelled with an a? Who made that decision? Actually…is it spelled with an a? I’m starting to question myself…

Having a look vs browsing

I can always tell if a customer is British (or Australian many times) or American (or Canadian) if I ask them if they are looking for anything and they respond with “oh I’m just having a look” (there’s have again! Sneaky little devil!) instead of “I’m just browsing.” This has not entered my vocabulary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, as silly as I think it is. Having a look. What the does that even mean? Just a look? Not a thought? Not an inclination? Sigh.

Well, that’s me for now (another Britishism, maybe specifically Scottish, meaning “I’m done”).

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2 responses to “British Lessons

  1. What a cute vacuum! Americans do that with more than just band-aids. Coke. Kleenex. Well, that’s all I can think of right now, but there’s more I’m sure.

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