The Virtues of Speaking English - British Style - an American Tourist in London

Harrod's

American vs British English?

If you have visited the UK or if you know someone explicably British, you will find that America and Britain speak the English language differently, in some regards.

Try out your "English" and listen for slight inflections in a typically British environment - such as Harrod's Luxury Department Store.


The London Underground

Is It a Subway or Tube?

In the US, we ride a subway; in the UK it is called the tube.

In the US, at a subway station, we might say “doors closing" or "stay clear of the doors.”

The British say “mind the door” or more familiarly on the tube the voice on the speaker will say “mind the gap” in regards to the space between the train and platform.


British Phone Booths

Subtle Differences

In the US, our currency is in dollars, the British use pounds.

In America, we use cell phones; in Britain they are called mobiles.

In the US, we call our accommodations bathrooms (for women or men). To the British they are called toilets (for ladies or gents).

In the US, telephone booths are extinct (except perhaps for Clark Kent), in the UK they are bright red and are actually functional!


A Pickle and Building With the Same Name?

Language Influences

With England being ever so close to France (2 ½ hours by Eurostar train), a tourist will find many French influences in the “English” language.

The zucchini vegetable in the UK is called courgette and you will find it designated as such on menus.

Speaking about vegetables, let's discuss what Americans call a small pickle - a gherkin.

In the UK they affectionately call a building by the same name. (The Swiss Re building, visible in the center of the photo).

When visiting the UK, do not ask for a California wine such as White Zinfandel, the British will give you a peculiar look and say that French wines are preferable.


UK's Royal Mail

Post Office Lingo

In the US, we will say we are “putting a letter in the mail.” The British say they will “post a letter” or “put it in the post.”

Since I stayed at a hotel in Kensington, the Post Office was in walking distance. I didn't find the postal workers to be friendly or helpful in my quest to find the right size box to ship books back to the US.

I would say the term 'snail mail' must have begun in the UK, as it took some time to arrive.

In the US, we would ask for a book of tickets or stamps, in England they ask for a carnet.

In the US, we ask a question; in the UK they ask a querie.


The Pleasure of Coffee

Coffee Sizes Do Matter

Coffee is a beloved beverage around the world. It can be quite daunting when ordering a beverage across the Atlantic.

At Costa Coffee in the UK, their sizes are primo, medio, and Massimo.

In the US we would ask for small, medium, or large size.

At Starbucks in the UK, their sizes are short, tall, grande, venti. The US alone will have a new even larger size, trenta.

it is interesting how we can have different names for the same things.

As they would say in France: Vive la différence!

All photos are by the author Camille Gizzarelli. The same great camera I took to Europe is the Canon below.

Visiting the UK

The UK is predominantly an English speaking country, making it more desirable for Americans to visit. If you are an American traveling abroad, always be sure to register online with the US embassy as to your itinerary in the event there is a security problem.

I visited London and Paris in 2011 and the day I arrived, riots broke out in London. I'm sure if I was in any danger, the state department would have notified me.

Relax, and enjoy your trip!

Cheerio!

The British say "Cherrio" as a farewell but I'll say "See you soon" instead. I loved London and the countryside so much I dream about going back, which I hope too, someday soon. See you there!

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Comments 10 comments

Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Since living in Thailand I have run into a lot of British English including the examples you have cited in your excellent hub. I have also learned a lot of British English from my teaching colleagues at the school were I am teaching English as a Foreign Language. Most of the Brits will use the slang term "quid" instead of pounds for money. In the U.S. we say to monitor or proctor an exam while the British term "invigilate" is used in our school. We use both American and British textbooks. I was surprised to learn that what we call sneakers in the U.S. are called trainers by the Brits. I have also heard my Brit colleagues say such things as two and a half for 2:30 and me book for my book. Finally, although I have been together with these guys for at least three years, there are times when we have to ask each other to repeat what we are saying if we are talking too fast. This is undoubtedly due to our different accents.


CamilleGizzarelli profile image

CamilleGizzarelli 5 years ago from New England, USA Author

Paul, thank you for your input, it truly is remarkable how the terminology is so different. The words are endless, but I forgot to mention a few others.

Americans say "waiting in line" while the British say "waiting in a queue."

What an American calls a cookie, the British call a biscuit.

And, last, but not least, what Americans call french fries, the British call chips.


D. Geoffrey Barth 5 years ago

In addition to all that, the accent increases ones perceived worth a thousand fold, thereby allowing one to "slide by" with scant effort.


Bob Botesta 5 years ago

Barth, right! If it weren't for the accent and rediculous convulutions in their speech, the British "Empire" would simply be called England. I mean, how stupid do you really have to be to keep forgetting to bring a few limes along with you when you go out for a voyage? And without a couple of limes, hard tack becomes useless very quickly.


Rutger O'leary 5 years ago

The English have a queen and we will one day have a queen who is the president, unless his secret comes out before hand.


Leslie Leeble 5 years ago

And what the English call the States, we call the United States.


Benjamin Ruglers 5 years ago

(1)In England, Private schools are called Public schools,(2)Colleges are called University, (3)Bathrooms are Loos, (4)Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, and (5)the past tense of Eat is Et [which does not, however carry over into counting (e.g. five, six, seven, et)]


Perry Friedman 5 years ago

The primary virtues of speaking English is that it's the language of this country and the one I've spoken and heard since I was born. Are those enough or do I have to think of more?


John Alexander 5 years ago

The primary virtue of speaking English in the British style is that if you're in the States and one asks you for directions, you can say, "Buzz off, Yank! How should I know?" and you won't be punched in your bloody nose.


sara 12 months ago

actually english is spoken throughout the world because it is one of the most important languages and alot of countries make thier students learn it. i dont know why english is that hard to learn(probably because there are a lot of different meanings for one word) but as a native english speaker it seems easy.

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