Four weeks ago, I left Wisconsin behind me and sped through the night on a jet to London with the optimistic thought that, although I was travelling to an unknown place 4,000 miles from home, at least the people there would speak the same language as me. Now that I’m actually in the city of double-decker buses and endless coffee shops, however, I think I may have been mistaken…
The other day, I encountered a street sign that read, “Absolutely no fly tipping.” Now, like any true Wisconsinite, I’ve heard of cow tipping. But I was pretty sure fly tipping was not the same thing. And if it was, it didn’t sound like much of a challenge. A Google search later, I learned that there was not, in fact, a correlation between trying to turn over a four-ton bovine and a pea-sized insect. Instead, “fly tipping” refers to illegally dumping garbage, which made sense in retrospect when I remembered the sign was posted near several dumpsters.
The Brits, however, don’t call it garbage. To them, its “rubbish.” One thing you might throw in the rubbish bin is the wrapper from a sandwich you ate for lunch. Instead of waiting in a line to pay for it, though, you probably waited in a “queue.” I’d like to know who gave British people the authority to put four vowels in a row. If you got that sandwich to go, I hope you didn’t ask for “carry-out,” because the two options here are “eat-in” or “take-away.” You may then have proceeded to eat that sandwich while driving down the “motorway” back to work before grabbing your briefcase from the “boot” of the car. Sometimes I think the Brits made up these terms purely for the entertainment of seeing the looks of confusion on the faces of unsuspecting foreigners like me.
Even when I do manage to use the right British lingo, my accent still gives me away. The only thing that marks an American tourist more definitely than his or her accent is a fanny pack, and fortunately I haven’t resorted to using one of those.
When I first arrived in London, I was self-conscious of my way of speaking, convinced it made me stand out like a dandelion amongst the Queen’s roses. But then I started eavesdropping on the people around me and heard something that changed my attitude, something beautiful: diversity. I realized I can walk down the street and hear five different languages or accents within just as many blocks. In a city that brings together people from all over the world, no one stands out, yet no one blends in, and somehow all are accepted. London’s like that.
Author Bio: Leah is a senior English major currently participating in the London study abroad program. Between interning at a publishing company and struggling to acquire a taste for tea, she rambles about her experiences overseas in a weekly column for the Pointer.