I’ve been living here in London (collectively) over a year and a half now, and whilst it’s not a huge change from the USA there are quite a few cultural differences between “us” and “them”. Whenever I’m home for a visit or having a chat with a friend on the phone, conversation inevitably seems to turn to what it’s like living in the UK. A lot of the questions are the same, and a lot of those questions are built from stereotypes that we as Americans have of the Brits whether from TV, movies or just generalizations. I thought it was high time I did a blog entry on some of those questions and stereotypes and try to explain where those ideas come from (if possible!!). N is collaborating with me on this, so if any of my answers are totally off-base he accepts responsibility and apologizes in advance!
Is the British accent the same all over?
Definitely not! There are loads of accents from all over the country! A northerner (geordie) sounds completely different to someone from Wales. Even London has accents from different parts of the city. N used to have a very distinctive south London accent while now his accent is a bit more muddled, and that’s possibly my fault! An east end (London) accent would sound a lot like Vinnie Jones or the movie “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. N says that the east end accent derives a lot of it’s sound and rhythm from the cockney dialect. East London is where all of the docks and trading areas were historically and that’s why cockney slang is associated with the lower class–because all of the peasants lived in that area. Cockney slang makes me laugh–some examples are:
- china plate – mate (friend)
- trouble and strife – wife
- dog and bone – phone
- pig’s ear – beer
Do the Brits really say things like “gov’nor” and “cheers”? And what’s the deal with “bloody?” Is it profanity?
I’ve heard a few people say “gov’nor” or “gov”–it tends to be used when talking to a person of authority (ie boss or police). “Gov’nor” is a cockney word.
Yes, the Brits do say “cheers”… a lot; N does it constantly. “Cheers” is an interchangeable word and can be used in several different contexts, as in saying “thanks” or simply as a version of “salud” while drinking.
“Bloody” is a fantastic word and I’ve found myself using it a lot… and probably sounding like a bloody idiot whilst doing it! It’s used as an adjective and can describe just about anything. When I asked N if “bloody” was considered profanity (and on par with f-ing as I thought it was) he said no–that it was so commonplace nowadays it wasn’t considered to be profane. “Bloody” is also a fantastic word to stick in the middle of another word for emphasis, like “un-bloody-believeable”. Great!
Do they have a dry sense of humor?
Not really… but the Brits’ sense of humor is different. I kind of like it, actually–their humor is a bit endearing and lovable. A lot of my American friends don’t get it or don’t think it’s funny, but I think British comedy has to be gotten used to. You can’t just jump into something like “Keeping up Appearances” of “The Vicar of Dibley” and expect to have sidesplitting laughter (unless you’re my grandmother). It’s hard to explain other than to say yes, the Brits do have a sense of humor.
Is the food really that bad?
Actually, believe it or not, no. I personally think the bland/boring/bad food thing is a myth. True, the types of foods are different to the USA and are generally a bit stodgier, but they’re not boring at all! I have the added bonus of being in London which again is extremely multicultural in all aspects–especially food! I love a good curry or a nice kebab and I’m always up for trying something new! N is a fabulous cook as well so we’re always eating good! That being said, there are a LOT of “American” foods that I miss–like real bacon. Bacon here, no matter how you cook it, always ends up floppy and limp.
What’s the “British” beer?
There isn’t really an essential British beer but instead there are “area” beers; for example you have Newcastle Brown for the Northeast of England. Fosters (Aussie) and Becks (German) tend to be popular pints in pubs. (As an aside, Guiness is a stout which is brewed differently to beer or “lager” and is typically darker and heavier tasting.) They’re obviously very cosmopolitain and multicultural with their beers.
Do the Brits ever go to the dentist; they all have bad teeth!
Definitely another stereotype. Most Brits that I know have better teeth than I do, and I go to the dentist (on average) every six months! A few people that I’ve talked to and a few articles that I’ve read online believe that the stereotype comes from a mix of the British history of dental hygiene and the fact that Americans tend to be a bit obsessive about their outward appearances. There does seem to be an age gap in the area British teeth… the younger generation seem to be more concerned with brushing and flossing and even corrective methods (whitening, braces, etc) than the older generation. Oddly enough, I don’t know as if I’ve ever seen a British kid with braces… hm.
This stereotype is also furthered by Austin Powers and shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons. Take for example, Lisa Simpson’s “Big Book of British Smiles”—
Is it always ‘tea time?’ And do they have crumpets with their tea?
Yes. Any time is Tea Time. A co-worker of mine, P, who recently joined the team was astounded by how many times a day he was offered a cup of tea. He said it got to the point where, if he’d had his arm chopped off or something, he thought he’d be offered tea instead of surgery. I too have fallen into having tea all of the time and have about 7 or 8 different types of tea in my cupboard at home. I’m partial to Earl Grey and Chai. N on the other hand is weird and doesn’t really care for tea.
And no, they don’t normally have crumpets with their tea–usually they’ll have a biscuit (cookie) or nothing at all!
What’s the weather like? Is it always raining?
The weather here is complete and utter crap. While the actual rainfall total is less than you’d think, the total number of “rainy days” is very high as a lot of those days are grey, drizzly ones. And it’s cold… all the time. For instance, in August, the peak temp was 32 Celsius… which is 89.6 Fahrenheit. That’s as hot as it got this last summer. Today? It’s 34 Fahrenheit. And guess what? It’s grey and drizzly. Bollocks to that.
Why do they hate red-heads and French people?
Some claim it could be a throwback to anti-Irish sentiment from the 19th Century and before when the Irish, with a greater prevalence of red hair, were regarded as ethnically inferior.
As for the French? Well who does like them… really? Kidding! I work with a few French people and they’re lovely. I think recently some of Sarkozy’s decisions and practices have upset not only the Brits but the rest of Europe. And I also could be totally off base here, but I think some of the dislike for the French stems back to WWI and WWII.
Are they really that crazy about soccer (football)?
Yes, and so am I. No, really. They are insane for football here. Not only for team England (who sucked in the World Cup) but also for league teams like Chelsea and Man United and Liverpool. I’ve joined the bandwagon at work and now have a fantasy football team online (which isn’t doing great!).
So love them, hate them, or be indifferent to them; the Brits are who they are and believe you me, when they’re not indifferent about it themselves, they’re damn proud to be British.
Ta for now!