When I first arrived in London I was always asking people to repeat what they said – I could NOT understand the British accent. Now, however, as time has passed, I can understand the accent perfectly and instead, it is the phrases that I don’t understand. Thankfully my roommate is taking a Language and Society class that explains a lot of these phrases to her and I have some British friends with whom I am not too embarrassed to ask “what the heck does that mean?!” I love speaking with someone and having them see my expression when they drop a word that I have never heard before; I can only imagine the look of confusion on my face. Here are a couple words/phrases that have sent my head on a spin!
Septic: If you run into a person who speaks with a Cockney accent and they pick up on your fab American accent, most likely when they’re talking to their friends at the pub later that night they will say “oh, I met a septic this afternoon.” I know, you’re probably thinking “septic? Like a septic tank??” Yes, my friends, we Americans are referred to by those speaking Cockney as a type of sewage system. Ha! It is actually kind of simple how we came to be called septics – the Brits are known for referring to Americans as “Yanks,” which rhymes with “tanks,” a word included in the term “septic tank” so, obviously, Americans are called “septics.”
Coach: There are signs for “coaches” everywhere. At first I thought this was a clever, yet incredibly expensive, advertising ploy by the handbag brand, Coach, but then I had a “d’oh!” moment and realized that a coach is actually a bus that travels long distances. This was disappointing because for a couple days I thought free designer handbags were going to be popping up in hidden places (follow the signs!) until it hit me that it would be a pretty good idea to know where the coach station is so I can get there when I have to take a coach. One of the most popular coach stations is in Victoria BUT a ten minute walk away from the actual train station – I had a slight panic attack trying to figure out where it was at 6 a.m. while I was trying to catch a coach to take me to Stansted airport. London is a great place for coach travel – you can buy coach tickets to Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton, Warwick Castle and to major cities in Scotland and Wales. This weekend my friends and I are hopping on a 12 hour overnight bus to Amsterdam to celebrate Thanksgiving. How in the world we are supposed to survive an overnight bus-ride is beyond me but hey! You live and you learn.
Taking the piss: Woah, this phrase is pretty crude sounding, right? Someone is “taking the piss” if they are joking around or trying to pull your leg. I think this phrase is best understood when used in conversation..
Catherine: So what happened in class today?
Kendall: Well Prof. Tucker came in with cupcakes for everyone and said that we were going to watch a British movie marathon instead of him lecturing on the plague. So we started off with “Love Actually” and then continued with “Bridget Jones”…
Catherine: That would happen on the one day that I skipped!
Kendall: Yeah, seriously, and that’s not at all. While we were stuffing our faces with sugary goodness, all of a sudden the Spice Girls walked into class for an impromptu performance of “Wannabe!!!!”
Kendall: … and then Hugh Grant walked through the door! Oh and Winston Churchill
Catherine: KENDALL! You’re taking the piss!
I think one of the most important pieces of advice I could give to an American traveling to London is that nearly every Brit is going to poke fun at your accent. Most of the time the joking is done in a friendly manner, and it is an easy way to start a conversation with someone. So many times have I been made fun of for saying “ohmygod!” and “awesome!” that by now I just let it slide past and laugh along with them at my “American-ness.”