A woman I met last summer in Austin will be moving to England soon. As I’ve followed her status updates it’s been fun to remember similar steps I needed to do or feelings I experienced as I prepared for my new life in the UK. The subject of communication came up this week. I grew-up with a British stepfather and visited England on a few occasions, but that wasn’t sufficient to prepare me for some basics in verbal and non-verbal communication. I lived in the UK from February 2006 to September 2010 and made several mistakes when it came to language and culture. I read, researched, and asked questions, but more oftentimes than not it was a blunder on my part that cemented in my brain, don’t say that or don’t do that. The following were lessons learned, ahem…learnt.
US: How are you?
UK: You all right?
As to be expected, I met lots of people on my first day at work in Northampton. I did not know, “You all right?”, was a form of greeting. I honestly thought I appeared ill and looked for a mirror to check if this was the case. I was bewildered as to what was it about my appearance that caused others to repeatedly ask me this question?
US: I’d like some dried fruit and custard for dessert.
UK: I fancy some Spotted Dick for my pudding.
Every time I shopped at Marks & Spencer and saw Spotted Dick my Inner Child would giggle. I should have bought this popular dessert and tried it just to say I did.
During a long day of training, our facilitators told the group that the speaker scheduled to arrive after lunch would not be there. As a result the attendees were told to take an extended lunch break. So I went to the town centre and purchased some walking shoes. When I returned to the training room, several people loudly socialised and I was greeted by one of the facilitators. I placed my bag of new shoes on a table and I immediately noticed the room went silent. The same facilitator who greeted me promptly informed me that it was “bad luck” to place new shoes on a table.
US: I was drunk last weekend.
UK: I was pissed last weekend.
As a clinician I was baffled by the incongruent affect of a patient who calmly talked about the frequency that she was “pissed.” After I spoke with the doctor on the multidisciplinary team I learnt the patient talked about her history of alcohol consumption, not her potential need for anger management treatment.
US: Fanny pack
UK: Bum bag
On a rather cold night in Northampton, I arrived a little early to a colleague’s flat in preparation for a board game night. Once inside, I shivered and rubbed my hands together in an effort to warm myself. I spotted a radiator on a wall in the dining room, walked up to it, backed up against it, and promptly announced to others, “I’m so cold, I need to warm up my fanny.” ”Fanny” in the UK means lady bits to which my shocked, amused, and laughing colleagues asked me, “Well, how are you going to do that?!”
Boy, were they shocked to learn I had a neighbor back in California whose name is Fannie.