London Language Lessons

When anyone moves to a new place or new country, one of the first things you notice are all the little idiosyncrasies and culture changes. Well, one of the first ones we learned moving to London was the verbosity of the British. Everyone here uses more words than necessary to convey a simple thought.

A simple example is this: there is some construction work going on near our home with the typical signage. In the U.S., there would be a sign saying, “Detour,” right?

Not here.

Imagine the financial savings by cutting this sign in half with a simple, “Detour.”

Now, my question is this: do they charge by the letter? Can’t they save some cash on smaller signs or less black ink to make a more succinct sign? An exit is not an “exit” here. It’s a “way out.”


The other thing, of course, was the inspiration for the name of this blog: extra letters. We saw one sign near the grocery store that said: “Danger: Vehicles manoeuvring.” How many letters do you need to say there are moving cars? In their defense, “danger” has fewer letters than the American, “caution.”


Another word I’ve noticed and have to double-take with is “maths.” For example: “I studied maths.” I didn’t realize “math” was plural. But some of the phrases are different as well that cause need for a second listen. There is an commercial for a Weight Watchers type service called Diet Chef. The woman says, “Diet Chef do all the work for you.” In my mind, I say, “does(!)”

But aside from the British signage and random words, there is of course how they converse. They go out of their way to explain things thoroughly and ad nauseam. The other day, I called the electric company to set up our account. The first thing I noticed was I could not understand a word the woman was saying because she was in fact Scottish (thanks Scottish Southern Electric).

I picked up every other word hoping I was signing up for the right service. At the end of the call where every thing I said was, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” the very polite and patient woman said, “Would you like me to explain the terms and conditions to you over the phone or email it to you?” First off, who explains all those terms and conditions anyway? Don’t we just click “agree” or say, “yes” and call it a day? I tried to not sound too relieved when I said, “Please send it via email. Thank you.”

Sorry about your wall
Not my photo, but taken in Canada.

How they say good-bye is not the typical “bye,” it’s “Cheers, mate. Cheers.” If they bump into you, if they cut in front of you in line (or the queue), or if they misunderstand you. However, it means, “sorry you’re a moron,” “sorry I can’t understand you,” or “sorry you’re in my way.” It is not, “I apologize for bumping into you,” or “I apologize for not seeing you when I rammed my buggy into your ankles.”

Something else we’ve noticed is they prolong their vowels. It’s not just long sentences or long explanations, it’s long words. The typical way they say, “thank you” turns into, “thank yoooouu.” The letter ‘H’ is not “a-ch” here, it’s said “haache.” And then of course, the ever popular, “zed” instead of “zee.”

But this blog would not be complete without the typical complaint about how they say, “schedule.” It’s not pronounced, “sshool,” so why say, “sshedule?”

Tesco’s tagline is, “Every little helps.”

As Americans, we are aware of the phrase, “every little bit helps,” right? Well, we went on a trip to another part of town and came across a large grocery store: Tesco. Their slogan is “every little helps.” Every little what helps? I stared at that sign for several minutes trying to figure out if it was a mistake or what it meant, but then of course we saw the same slogan in their commercials, so it must be “correct.” They put in the extra words and extra letters on a regular basis, but when it comes to a popular and international phrase, they cut it down.

Time to turn the tables. Something that the British have noticed about us Americans in turn, is that we pronounce every letter in each word. (Although, I do realize there are exceptions to this rule such as the word, “right,” but no matter.) There are several areas in town that are spelled strangely, and we want to say each letter such as: Leicester Square, Southwark, or Gloucester Road.

We wanted to pronounce these words as follows: Lie-chester Square, South-wark, and Glough-chester Road. No, mate, no. They are pronounced: Lester Square, Suth-uk, and Gloster Road. So when Jeff was told to go to Guildford for work, he had to verify that he was in fact headed toward the city in England and not the town in Ireland.

While we were figuring this out, we just paid very close attention to the voice on the tube. Between saying the names of the boroughs, (and the ever-favorite “cockfosters), she and also tells you to “mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

Whoever told us it would be easy to transition to London because at least they spoke English was wrong. It is a whole new language over here that we are trying to adopt and understand. When we come back, I certainly hope our friends and family forgive us for adopting “lift,” “jumper,” and “flat” in exchange of our American favorites.

Cheers, mates!

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