One month ago, I came to Oscar Wilde’s country piling up my IELTS diploma, one Oxford dictionary, some other English-slang app on my phone, my ‘keep calm and carry on’ mug and plenty of listening-exercises on the Midsomers Murders series. Quite satisfying for a European calling herself an Anglophile. I also knew that ‘God Save the Queen’ should keep me out of trouble. Felt quite confident when asked: ‘Do you speak English?’. But of course I do.
One month later. No dictionary could help me. What Oxford language specialists missed on telling me was not the meaning of the British-English words, but what British really meant when using the words. If your teacher, boss, landlord or flat mate tells you ‘you speak quite good French’, don’t fall for the compliment. ‘Quite good’ means ‘a bit disappointing’.
The map for the lost in translation
When my teacher told me ‘not bad’ I translated it into ‘average’, while he meant ‘pretty good’. So, look for antonyms and you’ll find the real meaning of their opinion on your work. Oh, and don’t get fooled by the smile! The smile is like… like a grammar-article for being ‘politely’ correct.
How to bullshit while being politely-correct
Now your mind is in that confusing place where yes-nodding is in fact NO! I can visualize my synapses processing the meaning of pretty good and then scanning the words through the last security gate: ‘The Guide for Anglo-European Translation‘. Other examples for taking the proficiency test in dissonant British-English?
- If you get the ‘great respects’ this means ‘you’re such an idiot!’ for believing you charmed him with your knowledge
- Once you say something ‘quite interesting’, drop it! ‘It’s clearly bullshit!’
- Oh! And if a British ‘almost agrees’ with you, you’re not getting anywhere;
- ‘I’ll bear in mind’ means your got-him-interested British just forgot your wonderful idea
- Never schedule a dinner next week – ‘you should come and have dinner sometime’ is in fact, you’ll get a meal nevertime.
“Don’t be rude!” Words
The words that still keep their meaning are: ‘Please’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank You’! I assure you this three golden-words, used as many times you please, will get you under the skin of every British you meet. If you only use two of them, then you are close to being rude.
If you want to save yourselves from repeating thank you like a robot, well no, recording won’t work. Replace it with ‘Cheers’. Cheers works for everything. Also for ‘Bye’. No risks taken with ‘cheers’. Use it wisely and as often as possible. Maybe with some teachers won’t work, but have your ‘thank you’ line prepared for any emergency cases.
I’d say you should start rehearsing your verbal tic by now: sorry, please, thank you, cheers, sorry, please…
How to be angry while being politely-correct
Never ever ‘hate’ anything. Example: if you are offered a piece of white chocolate, don’t be honest and say you hate it. Hate is such a rude feeling! A colleague of mine, Tuba, taught me the lesson of politely-hating something: ‘Sorry, I’m fine, thank you!’.
If someone (as in everyone!) asks ‘you al’rite?’, don’t tell them you’re upset because you just lost one of your earings or that your cat just died of obesity. No, they’re just being polite. Not really interested into your not so al’rite problems. Just smile and ask back ‘are you al’rite’. Thank you!
When you’re angry ‘bloody’ would perfectly work as an adjective for any of your noun frustration. Bloody bus, bloody good time, bloody stupid. Your nervous system should be painted in red. Bloody is like the ultimate polite-neurotic mood.
How not to look like a Tourist-English speaker
I have to be honest and tell you that the ‘keep calm and carry on’ is only for tourists, while ‘God save the Queen’ won’t save you not even for a good joke. Indeed, you have to worship the Queen, but you can pray for any other things in your big city like. For example to have your H14 bus coming over to get you back home or ‘God save me some money’ for the white-and-black dress.
God save your English! Thank you, that was is it for today, my European ‘mates’. I hope I saved you the one-month trouble of being lost literally, in translation.
Sorry, please recap. Thanks!
Recapitulate: Hi! Are you al’rite? Sorry, for boring you with my posts. Please, come back on my blog any other time. Maybe we’ll have dinner some time (NOT). Thank you for finding my blog ‘not that bad’.And now get me my bloody Bloody Mary! Cheers!
PS. This is a very funny scene in a BBC series on ‘Do you speak English’, Of course, British humor is another translating-discussion.