I’m sure that your English is fluent enough for you to study in the UK (if you aren’t confident, take a look at my post about studying in English). I’m also sure that you’re able to communicate with international students withouth any problems. But do you understand what locals, i.e. English people really mean? It took me a while (and a few awkward situations), so here are a few surprising things Brits say.
- How are you? You’ll hear this question dozens of times every day. In the beginning I thought: “wow, these Brits are so nice, they really care about me”. Well, soon I was disillusioned. Don’t even bother replying to this phrase with anything else than “I’m fine, thanks. You?” or “Good, how are you?”. Treat it as a synonym of “hi”, not an invitation to tell them about how you’re settling in at Imperial, how’s your research going, how’s your girlfriend treating you etc. Nobody cares.
- Not too bad. That’s one of the most common responses to how are you – and it actually means that they’re superhappy. The happiest they’ve ever been. This is called enthusiasm…
- Are you alright? When I heard it for the first time, I became seriously worried – do I look sick? Do I look lost? Don’t worry, it means exactly the same as how are you, i.e. “hi!”. Again, if you’re really not feeling great, go home and take a nap, don’t complain to your interlocutor about how tired you are. They don’t care.
- Darling… Don’t even get me started on this one. In the store: How can I help you, darling? In a health centre: Are you ok, darling? At the train station: Could you please move, darling? You’ll hear it mostly from British women from our parents’ generation and older, but not only. So don’t get too excited when this good-looking shopping assistant calls you darling – they just want your money.
- It’s not quite right. When I started working with my British supervisor, he kept responding to my unsuccessful attempts of solving problems with this magic phrase. It took me a while to realise that by not quite right he actually meant “you’re completely wrong, not even close to the right solution”. He just didn’t want to discourage me. British politeness can be tricky, so always make sure your supervisor really means what you think they do.
- By the way… Nope, it usually isn’t some detail they forgot to ask you about or tell you. I learned that many times after a lengthy small talk you’ll hear the key expression by the way and finally they’ll get to the point.
- And my very favourite. What would you say if someone bumped into you in a crowded street? Well, if you want to behave like a proper Londoner, make sure you say Sorry, excuse me, I apologise. Possibly repeat it a few times to sound more dramatic. Than walk away, cursing under your breath. Could someone explain to me why I’m expected to apologise for being bumped into?!?!?! I don’t think I’ll ever understand that.
London is a very international place, we all bring here our own cultures, customs and languages. This makes life very interesting – but also calls for miscommunication. That’s why it’s so important to understand locals. So, how are you, darling?