If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I go to great pains to keep Americans apprised of British customs, sayings and manners. Not that we all take tea at precisely 4pm every day, or consort with the Queen on a regular basis, but there are some things that while minor, make all the difference.
If you’ve yet to read Rules, Britannia, let me recap a few of my tips:
Please – While the meaning of “please” is usually implied in the tone of an American request, the word itself is not always used. In the UK, its absence will draw audible intakes of breath and small children may well find the cookie, or toy they are requesting withheld until they “ask properly”. The word “please” is used by everyone regardless of background; it is said to everyone regardless of station, so that includes waiters and other people paid to serve you.He/She – Again, while no harm is meant in the US by referring to a person as “he” or “she” while they are standing right in front of you, it’s considered very rude in the UK, and often elicits the rhetorical and shocked question “Who’s she? The cat’s mother”. Seriously. If you can’t remember, or don’t know, the name of the person you’re talking about, simply say “We were just discussing…..”.
Freakin’ – Use of this word may cause raised eyebrows as it’s not generally known in the UK and sounds a little too much like “frigging”, which is a substitute for the F word and not used in polite company.
Shagadelic – Yes, I know Austin Powers made this a household word, but it’s still not one you pop into family conversations in the UK. Do you know what “Shag” means by any chance?
There’s something however, that I missed entirely until recently, and I feel compelled to speak out in order to spare Americans huge embarrassment, although it would give Brits a huge laugh.
***It’s “ARSEd” not “ASKED”; and “arsed” is not just slang for “asked”.***
Example – “I can’t be arsed”, meaning I can’t be bothered.
Again, not really something you’d say at work, or to your British mother-in-law as blogger Michelloui (The American Resident) did for many years. Having only heard this one example, I thought it was a charming yet idiosyncratic error on her part – until last week when I saw a Facebook comment from another blogger The Lady Who Lunches. Having lived in the UK for quite a while, she is apt to use the odd British expression, as she did here.
TLWL Status Update – This might be the first year where I just can’t be asked to do anything for Halloween …
Me – Do you mean “arsed”?
TLWL – Oh yes, that’s what I meant – why is it spelled like that?
Me (thinking) – Erm….it’s quite phonetic really.
Then later –
TLWL – I thought “arsed” was just slang for “asked”.
(Apparently she and a few friends, who also have British partners, have been popping it into all sorts of conversations.)
So there you have it Americans. Be careful when using British slang; you may not quite know what you’re saying!
(Saving the World, One Accidental Insult at a Time)
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.