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