Thursday, December 29, 2005

More British-isms From A Yank Friend

This email arrived from an ex boyfriend with distant cousins across the pond, after he read what I wrote about London. I thought it was entertaining enough to post. He starts by suggesting that my contention about no Costcos over there may not be correct.

I think that England has Costco because a lot of the food at [my cousins's] cold and drafty “castle” was Kirkland, the Costco house brand.

I have always liked the English thing about using a lot of extra words for something we have one word for: in Berwick-upon-Tweed I found myself hesitating before a sign which read “Gents Wash and Brush Up.” When I ventured inside I was relieved, in more ways than one, to find the usual assortment of useful porcelain fixtures.

Also moving companies are called rather ominously “removers.”

An English lady [my ex] and I met in Tucson at the B&B we were staying at asked whether our son was in “a residence hall.” I had to actually go from there to “dormitory” and then just to “dorm” before comprehension struck me.

When I went to England the first time on my own, I stayed at [my cousin's] cousin’s family’s country house outside of London. It was close enough so that the children remember looking out the windows at fires from bombs in London. Their father was one of the British rowers who conducted a failed raid on the coast of Africa in an attempt to kill Rommel. It opens the famous movie, Rommel, made with James Mason. The raid, as shown in the movie and in real life, failed, the team was caught, and he spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.

For my benefit I guess the family had gathered a bunch of local jeunesse, all Oxford and Cambridge types for me to meet. I was just off of nine hours of drinking and flying on a student charter flight, and just sat there in that large room, with great French doors opening out onto lawn, seated in an enormous overstuffed sofa covered in chintz, a pattern of huge flowers, and with every table top containing a vase with more flowers in it than I had ever believed could have come from a single garden.

The young men talked, and I felt very stupid. They seemed glittering in their facile use of words and long arching sentences, all the pronouns right, and often with a wonderful cadence in the ear. After Exeter and Harvard and a year at Michigan Law, I felt totally uneducated, a mere rube, someone from the colonies with a mediocre education.

I thought about it for a long time that summer, playing the tape of the afternoon in my mind. Somewhere during the course of the summer, about half way, I figured out that these young men really were not more educated than I was, but boy, could they say what they knew better!

It was a hard lesson for someone who thought of himself as glib.

I also found understanding most people quite hard. [My cousins's] mother, Helen, a lovely, lively and funny lady, had a voice which sounded like a British phone. She didn’t talk as much as she sounded like the phone, brrrr-uppp, burr-upp, in a very high tone.

Also the slang is totally different and often very class oriented. “NOKD,” for example, which is “not our kind, dear.” It ‘s the dear that makes it funny and useable. I remember [my cousin's] sister telling me that on the lists for young men eligible for invitations to deb parties were codes such as “TPF” for “tiny prying fingers” and “NSIT” for “not safe in taxis.”


ally123130585918 said...

Trouble is Mrs L us British can be very British at times  -  Hope you enjoyed your trip to London....Ally

jevanslink said...

Being very British beats being very American most of the time.  I think.  Mrs. L

sunnyside46 said...

I love the different slang terms.
my mom's term for NOKD was "tacky " people.

suzypwr said...

At one time my next door neighbors were a family from England. The father was sent here for one of the auto companies for a few years. I learned then that I speak American, not English. My child was 3, and started saying things like "mirra" for mirror because she spent time with them. One of the girls actually quit high school when she made an error on a test and asked a boy in a very quiet room for a rubber. (British for eraser.) I was also surprised at how proud the British can be of being undereducated and not too bright. Education and brains are for the working class, I guess, who cannot rely on old money. I miss them every day - they were lovely people, but had to return home after 3 years.


sdoscher458 said...

Mrs. L, here in the south we have something similiar .. we say awful things about people and follow it with a "bless your heart"....thereby making it appear quite alright. Like..."just doesn't fit in, bless her heart"....softens it a bit just like the "dear" does.  Sandi

undeniablyshe said...

Sounds as though you've had an absolutely wonderful time.  When I visited my friend in the States, she and her friends couldn't get over my use of the word 'lovely' to describe things I found pleasant.

Sorry to dissapoint you but we definitely do have Costco.  There are a few of them throughout the country.  And as for Walmart, they now own one of our largest supermarket chains, Asda.  

Happy New Year Mrs L.

Annie :-)

fmgruber said...

Your story certianly has me throughly confused. LMHO! Good story. Fernan

screaminremo303 said...

They talk funny and they dress like Benny Hill. People talk funny in America too, but we just call them Rednecks.

BTW-I tagged you.  Enjoy.