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How to Talk English: Learning to embrace Britishisms

This post is the seventh in our England 2015 series.

As soon as we had secured our plane tickets, our first task was to contact our dear friend and host Teresa, a spunky, energetic 86-year-old Englishwoman. She and the Boyd family have been friends for decades, and she has been urging us to bring our family to visit for years.

Once I figured out how to make an international call on my phone, I got through to Teresa. As always, she was warm and considerate (“Darling, I’m so glad you will stay in the flat. I won’t be a bit in your way!”), but I ended the call with a sudden realization: I have an American accent, and I was feeling very self-conscious about it.
Posing with King Henry VIII.
A few Americans posing with King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace.

Essentially, this anxiety simply mirrored the rest of the self-consciousness I felt about my American ways, and I handled it in a similar style: by aiming to be both true to myself and sensitive to our host culture. I found a healing example of American elegance in England through watching Downton Abbey and studying Lady Grantham’s gracious and unapologetic American accent.

At home, we practiced saying “I’m looking for the loo!” and “May I please have a biscuit?” The girls found it hilarious that one should say “trousers” instead of “pants” in England, lest others think you are referring to undergarments.

It all worked out, albeit imperfectly. We stumbled right off the bat by explaning to the customs officer that we were “on vacation” (and not “on holiday”). I was always strangely surprised that people understood what we were talking about when we asked for “the loo.” We even said “pants” a few times in public, then giggled with embarrassment. I did finally relax into a state of acceptance of my own American accent.

But we felt very pleased when, at one breakfast in Gloucestershire, a man mistook us for Canadians due to our quiet demeanor. Score one for Team America!
Mind the step.
An English cautionary sign with English graffiti about an English genre of dance music .

Read the next post in our England 2015 series: It’s Merely a Flesh Wound: Diving into England’s bloody history.

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