Understanding Your British and Irish Friends: An American’s Guide

Since we moved to Geneva last year, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to learn my husband’s native tongue of French — but I’ve also had the pleasure of expanding my English vocabulary from a purely American repertoire to one that understands that your Irish friend has not, in fact, just declared that she’s high (more on that later). Indeed, it turns out that the differences between American, British and Irish English extend quite a bit beyond the occasional “bloody hell,” and often can lead to some rather amusing confusion. I’ve been keeping a list of some of those particularities since I started grad school last semester, courtesy of my dear — American dear that is — classmates who call England and Ireland home. So without further ado, here it is: An American’s Guide to Understanding Your British and Irish Friends!

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London: 48 Hours of English (!)

I had forgotten how much I like London. The history, the culture, the pubs, the red double-decker buses… It’s such a fun city. It was also the first English-speaking city I’ve visited in nearly six months, and thus the first place in nearly six months that I could understand everything going on around me. In fact, a funny thing happened when we landed at Gatwick airport on Friday night. After waiting an hour and a half to go through the security line for non-EU or UK passport holders (blah), we made it to the food court and, ravenous, stopped at Costa to grab sandwiches. The cashier asked if I would like mine toasted, and Gui turned to me and asked if I would like it toasted. Then the cashier asked if we’d like to eat the food there or take it with us, and Gui turned to me and repeated the same question. That’s when I realized what was going on. “Gui,” I said, “he’s speaking English…” My adorable husband was translating for me (or so he thought). We had a good laugh, and the guy looked at us like we were a little crazy. Continue reading