I returned home from my British Countryside Literary Tour on Thursday just before midnight. I'm still putting the finishing touches on getting all my photos organized and uploaded, and will share what I saw and did over what will probably be many, many posts -- because I sure packed a lot into 4 1/2 days! Luckily I have my travel journal and about 600 photos to help me remember what I DID see and do there. Otherwise it would be a blur!
But let's start out with my innocent assumption that communicating in England would be effortless and that I spoke the language. Ha! Silly me! It's not the British accent (or accentS, because of course there are several) that throws me off; in fact, because I've watched so many British movies and TV shows over the years and because I have some British friends, I seem to understand most of the Brits I meet in normal conversation. Yes, even the Scots.
It's the slang and the odd (to me) pronunciation of certain words, especially proper names, that throws me off. For example, I found that the names of certain towns are pronounced in ways that are completely against the way *I* was taught to pronounce those sounds in English. It made for a bit of a challenge while riding the rails, because I had to listen extra-carefully to the announcements while on the trains to ensure I wouldn't miss my stops.
Reading (a town): is not like REEDING, but REDDING. This one, however, I already knew because there is a Reading, Pennsylvania.
Leamington Spa (another town): I kept asking the conductor about LEEmington Spa and then heard him say it like LEMMINGton. Pfft.
Castle Combe (an adorable village I visited and photos will follow): that last part is pronounced COOMB instead of COMB, like you'd comb your hair. Why? I have no freaking idea. The British also have this thing called the Domesday Book which was created from William the Conqueror's time to do a land survey in English, and is it pronounced DOMESday, like the dome of a cathedral? No. It's DOOMSday. Again - no freaking idea why. There is also a village called Frome that is pronounced FROOM and I'm convinced this is just to make Americans like me crazy; but there's that book, Ethan Frome - do the British say Ethan FROOM? Dunno.
I know you drop the "h" when pronouncing something like "Chippenham" and "Burnham" but for the department store "Debenham's" you would SAY the "h". Derby and Derbyshire are pronounced DARBY/DARBYshire, not DERby(shire); same thing with Hertfordshire - it's HART not HURT. Which just makes me want to HURT somebody. And on the train from London to Oxford, we passed a stop for Maidenhead which had some sort of bizarre pronunciation I never did quite catch but which sounded to me like MAINTURD. And oh, how I hope for their sake that's NOT how you say it. Who would want to live in the Main-Turd town in England?
Geez, no wonder non-English-speakers get so confused when they attempt to learn English. If they learn British English or American English, and then meet English-speakers from the "other" side, they can't understand a bloody word.
Then there are the differences in terminology, even in everyday things. Most of these are just plain funny rather than annoying.
Of course most of us know that in England, an ELEVATOR is the LIFT, and an APARTMENT is simply your FLAT. No problem.
That's not an EXIT you seek to get out of the Tube or the station; you want the WAY OUT. Which I find pretty way out.
Britons don't YIELD when driving; they GIVE WAY. As with "WAY OUT", I can't help but wonder: why use two words when ONE would suffice?
You wouldn't just "watch rugby" on TV, you would "watch THE rugby". But is there more than one rugby, necessitating the use of the "the" to specify that it's some very special rugby you're watching? Why the need for the article - and do Britons also say they're watching (or even playing) THE golf, THE football, THE volleyball, etc.?
And you definitely want to MIND THE STEP in England, not WATCH YOUR STEP, when getting on and off a train. Even if you're a duck.
My favorite one of all appeared on a bottle of Tropicana Orange Juice. This, for me, was more of a 3-language joke between me and Georges. I'll start by telling you something you may not know in French, even if you known some French: that the vernacular for penis is la bitte or la bite (both spellings are in the dictionary). You would pronounce that like "BEET". There is even a well-known expression in French using this word: avec ma bite et mon couteau, which translated literally means "with my cock and my knife" -- but which really just means the harmless "to make do with what you have".
Now, what on earth could a French vulgarity for penis possibly have to do with a British bottle of orange juice AND an American being lost in translation, you wonder? (I don't wonder that you wonder.) Well, consider that a French person would, with their French accent, pronounce even the word "bit", as in "every little bit counts", "It's a bit warm out today" or "I'll have a bit that cake, thanks", like BEET as well -- same as with their naughty word for the male anatomy.
And you'll understand why I laughed 'til I cried when I bought THIS bottle of juice on my first morning in England:
The only thing worse than having juicy bits? Another version of this juice has "NO bits". Yup: totally dickless. And then there is the well-endowed orange juice with "EXTRA JUICY BITS". Bet THAT juice gets a lot of dates. Why don't you Brits just say PULP?! It's in the damn Oxford English Dictionary, for crying out loud!
Of course, some things need no translation, no matter what your language. Like these gorgeous and very famous eyes on a giant billboard in the London Underground:
I'd know those "rich" eyes anywhere. Thanks for welcoming me to England, Sir Paul. Despite all the weird English language tricks you Brits all love to play on us dumb hick Americans, I still love your country and I had a fabulous time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah!