How to Talk British Part 2

london 4

Trip Advisor has just announced that LONDON is the most expensive city break in the world!

Now, this is not exactly the feather in the cap we were hoping for.  Most of us would have rather Oslo or Zurich claimed the title, but then, who wants to go there?  Still, for any of you out there who have come into a whole load of cash – there must be tens of you – just remember, the English are always here to help.  Having too much cash must be an unbearable burden, and London is probably on your bucket list anyway.

So, with these thoughts in mind and your bank account full to bursting, Mother Hen is here to provide more helpful advice for the fearless and moneyed visitor to Britain.

Travel:  You may or may not wish to rent a car over here (I wouldn’t recommend it).  If you have visions of kicking back against your gun rack and setting your cruise control to take a long, slow road trip across this beautiful island, allow me to just pop that bubble right here and now and save you the insurance claims.  Any American driving for the first time in Britain will tell you that it is as relaxing as an electroshock therapy session.  Plus, there are no gun racks.  Or guns.

We drive on the right, which is the left side of the road.  Left though it may be, if you ask a Brit, it is the “right” side to drive on.  Your new mantra becomes, “Stay left! Stay left! Stay left!”  Navigating roads in Britain is hard enough for those of us who live here.  Cars are not generally automatic, kids don’t get their licenses until they are 18 and then only after rigorous training, and we have single-track roads and traffic parked up along every curb. In Britain, you either drive well, or you drive dead.

If you do decide to rent a car, here are a few words to know:

American gas is British petrol.

British gas is what you get from eating beans (also known as wind).

The American hood is the British bonnet.

An American bonnet is what you put on a baby’s head.

The British boot is the American trunk.

The British trunk is an elephant’s nose, or a wooden chest.  Maybe that is universal.  Kind of a silly word, trunk.  Not that boot makes much more sense, but there you have it.

The American boot is what they give you when you get fired from a job.

Getting fired from a job in Britain is what they call being made redundant.

Being made redundant in America just means you repeat yourself. A lot. You keep repeating yourself and saying the same things over and over. Plus you say the same things over.  And over.

Stick to public transport!  The English underground is called the Tube.

An American tube is what they call the television, even though they have been tubeless for decades.  Sometimes they are also called boob tubes.

A British boob tube is a super hideous bit of spandex that reduces the female chest to a speed hump, the designer of which was obviously a pervert.  They have yet to be banned, but we live in hope.

A British television is called the telly.

A few more for your benefit:  An American umbrella is an English brolly.  When visiting England, never leave the hotel without one!

Yanks wear raincoats, Brits wear Macs (short for Macintosh) or Anoraks.  Note:  In Britain the term Anorak has become synonymous for trainspotters, and wierdos (not that the two are in any way related, of course).  Just saying.  To say of someone, “He’s a bit of an Anorak” is not a complimentary term, and generally means “weirdo alert.”

Brits do not take elevators. they ride in lifts.  Sorry.  That’s just how it is.

Shopping:  Shopping carts to a Yank are trollies to a Brit, and they are very different.  The American version features 2 swivelling and 2 stationary wheels, whereas the British version features 4 fully swivelling multidirectional wheels.  A bit like the celestial chariot described in Ezekiel’s vision… ok, nothing like that at all, but I think that was the inspiration for the 4-swivel brainchild.

American trollies are what they use to get around in San Francisco.  Also they are used to sell Rice-a-Roni. Woohoo.

When a Brit says to you, “I’m desperate for a fag,” you must realize he is talking about a cigarette. There is no need for raised eyebrows or shocked gasps when your colleague tells you he’s “stepping out to have a quick fag” in England, unless of course you are a nonsmoker, as I am, in which case such reactions are perfectly acceptable. This usage of the word is probably shortened from fagot, an old French word for a bundle of sticks lit at one end – a torch, if you will.

A British torch, on the other hand, is an American flashlight.

An English flashlight is … well, a flashing light, I guess.

And another thing:  Be very careful with the use of certain names.  The Brits have a very raunchy sense of humour as a rule, and, unless you are a fan of BBC America, it can sometimes take you entirely by surprise.  For a nation whose favourite adjective is “lovely,” most Brits are never more than a snicker away from bathroom humour.

In a pub one afternoon with British friends, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was playing in the background.  “I like this song,” said our British friend – let’s call him Bill (names have been changed to protect the innocent, by which I mean me).  “Who sings it?” asked Bill.

“Willy Nelson,” I replied.

The entire pub fell silent, but for the strains of Willy and a few crickets.  Then everyone erupted into laughter.  “WILLY NELSON!!!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I’m not shy, but I felt myself blushing to the roots.  What had I said wrong?

“That’s NOT his name – you’re having us on!” cried Bill, fairly rolling on the floor laughing.


Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square

Well, I knew the term willy was slang for – erm – a man’s manly bit.  Everyone says it, no big deal.  If you have a son, it is one of the first words he learns (and it will be the last he forgets).

In Trafalgar square stands Nelson’s Column, 169 feet of solid granite, a monument to the manliness of Lord Admiral Nelson, champion of the Battle of Trafalgar.  I’m sure you can guess what “Nelson” means to the British.

Apparently, Willy Nelson is a redundancy of terms.  An American redundancy.

Mother Hen

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved

16 replies »

  1. When I saw ‘How to Talk British Part 2’ I said aloud “Oh goodie!”. I just love the comparisons. The driving on the ‘other’ side of the road would throw me for a loop for sure. I clearly remember my sister and I exiting a taxi in Singapore (where they too drive on the ‘other’ side) and looking the only direction we were accustomed to, knocked a man clear off his bicycle. Fortunately we did not understand Chinese as he gave us an earful. And oh yes, another way of saying you’re canned over here is, ‘gliding down the heads.’ It still means you’re sacked no matter how elegantly it is put to you. Will there be a 3 and 4? Just say yes right now so we have even more to look forward to!


      • Oh, I bet. I’ve been to London but wouldn’t dare drive. It’s the tube for me! Luckily the public transportation system there is pretty good…or at least it was when I was there.


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