S as in… snail?

I like to pretend I’ve got it all together. New country? Sure! I’m a pro! England can’t be that different, can it? Because after all, it’s our Motherland and we both spell the right way (colour, cheque). Easy.

Not so much.

The following is a list of the things in the last few days that have had people glaring at me and thinking “Ugh. American.” (I don’t expect many people to realize that I am, in fact, Canadian.)

1. Dollars?

Sunday I went on one of those hop-on-hop-off city tours of Newcastle. In typical fashion, I arrived at the bus stop just as the bus was pulling away and had to wait the full 30 minutes for the next one. Sigh.

When the bus finally arrived, I hopped on and smiled at the bus driver. There was a silence.

“Uh, so it’s what, 8 dollars?” I say, finally. He laughs. I try to correct myself as quickly as possible. “I mean.. pounds.. not dollars…”

“8 dollars wouldn’t get you very far, love.” You’re telling me.

2. Can you repeat that please?

I hadn’t eaten anything all day Sunday. My stomach is not happy, so I didn’t push it. After thoroughly exploring the city, I came home briefly to put away my camera and pick a place to eat from the city guide I had. I finally chose one and headed off in that direction.

I walked nearly across the city, only to discover that this place was not open on Sundays. I then proceeded to walk the streets and realize that most places weren’t open on Sundays. I wanted a real meal, something that someone brought out to me. But the only places I could find that were open were McDonald’s and Subway. A lot of the places I passed had been serving food until 5pm, but were now only serving drinks.

I finally found a place to eat. Apparently a vodka bar? But it had food. I went in and sat down. The waitress finally came to ask what I wanted to order. I ordered the veggie burger and then asked her what was on tap. Do people not ask that in England? Is there a different saying for it?

“Like, lagers?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah.” I’m so articulate. Keep in mind that this was only the second conversation I’d had outside of my head all day. She listed them all really fast. I blinked.

“Um… can you repeat that please?” I asked, timidly. I was really hoping that one of the beers she listed was Newcastle Brown, because, well, I’m in Newcastle and it’s a great beer.

“Something, something, Carlsberg, something else,” she said.

“Um, I’ll have a pint of Carlsberg…”

3. Um, which one again?

This happened to me twice. I’m okay with bills (do they call them notes here?) but as soon as I get to the change part, I can’t tell a penny from a… 20p?

When I went to pay admission for Castle Keep, it took me a good two minutes of riffling through my wallet. I knew they had a 50 cent (p?) piece. But I could not remember what it looked like.

Then I paid for my dinner. The waitress who already didn’t like me much.

“That’ll be 10 pounds and 5 p,” she said. I handed her a 20 pound note.

“Uh, I have… 5 cents.” Cursing myself in my head, I know it’s not cents. She waited. I riffled through my wallet. Finally, I gave up and pulled out a 10p and handed it to her. She gave me a look.

“It’s 5p.”

“Um, yeah, which one is that again?” I asked.

“The small silver one.”

“Oh.” I handed her the 5p.

4. S or F?

People never think of their own accents as hard to understand. I certainly never thought anyone would have any trouble understanding me. I guess it’s one of those culture-centric things we do.

Yesterday morning I called the electricity, water and broadband companies to get my accounts set up. That required stating my address. Easy enough, right?

Wrong. My postcode ends in the letters S and G.

Everytime I gave my postcode, they thought I had said F rather than S. And then when they said it back to me, I thought they were saying S rather than F. This was worst with the lady at BT Broadband. She was desperately trying to find my address in the system.

“I think I must have your postcode wrong,” she said. She spelt it out. “…And F as in foxtrot, G as in golf?”

“Oh. No. It’s S.. as in snail.” I tried to think of a better s word. It failed me. S as in snail?! Sigh.


  • By Darryl Coleman, September 8, 2009 @ 5:44 am

    I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

  • By Sheema, September 8, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    Ah the dollar/pound confusion- don’t worry, we’ve all been there! It will take you some time to get used to all the terminology and the accents. Geordie accents (the kind they have in Newcastle) are notoriously hard to understand-sometimes people from the South have a hard time too! Hang in there! Here’s a cheat sheet that may help: http://www.sheemasiddiqi.com/?p=160

  • By Stephanie, September 8, 2009 @ 8:36 am

    I have a new coworker who is from the UK and he has trouble understanding all of us sometimes due to our accents. When he told me this I thought it was the weirdest thing, how could he not understand us, we don’t have accents.

  • By Faebala, September 8, 2009 @ 9:48 am

    Hahah. Oh, my love. This made me cringe for you… I’d be so stressed out. But at least you’ll get the hang of it.

    It’s like that time we got into the Irish taxi and I literally couldn’t understand a word the driver said, but you had a full on conversation with him. Also, the time we went to Subway in London and I was flustered trying to figure out what dressings they had, that I accidentally asked for, “American cheese.” And they gave me the Oh American’s look. Sigh.

    Though, to be fair, if someone comes here and asks for vinegar on their chips - they’re going to get quite the look.

  • By Jes, September 8, 2009 @ 9:48 am

    Oooh, I know I shouldn’t laugh but this was so funny. Especially because I think every Canadian that ventures over there encounters these things! hehehe….You’ll get used to it soon! (hopefully)

  • By Sarah, September 8, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    hahaha these were awesome :) only because anyone who has done any traveling knows what you’re talking about. I asked for a sweet tea, that cool, sugared tea drink that’s only here in the Southern US, when I was in Boston… I didn’t MEAN to, I KNEW they didn’t have it, it was just what I usually order… the waitress looked at me like I was an alien idiot. “Do you mean… ice tea?” she said, all condescending… haha it happens to everyone :)

  • By Mike, September 8, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

    If it’s any consolation, when I was in England on the first day I promptly went to the post office to buy some stamps. This was pre email and skype, so we had to communicate by postcard, although the 300 or so postcards I sent your Mother all arrived after I got back. Anyways, it took 5 minutes of conversation and hostility from the postal worker, who looked like he was going to call security or an insane asylum, before I realized that he didn’t accept traveler’s cheques. At that point I had gone way past understanding what “going postal” meant, so I just skulked away muttering about “how could they be related to me and yet incomprehensible”.

  • By Eleni, September 9, 2009 @ 12:19 am

    Haha, “8 dollars wouldn’t get you very far, love.”

    It could just be bad phone quality–S and F do sound similar when their names are spoken. For future reference, S is “Sierra” in the NATO alphabet. “S as in Sierra, G as in golf.”

    I’m sure you’ll be a pro at all things British before long :)

  • By Sebastian, September 9, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

    If I recall correctly… S and F do have similar histories? Or are kind of closely related?

    The old-worlde S looks like an F, right? Or something like that… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s)

    We have ‘on tap’. Maybe was a shit barmaid.

    5p is silver. 1p is brown!

    Just get it out of your system before you start making friends and stuff… and work on being Canadian, instead of American. That’s quite important.

  • By Christine Sweeton *The Chris*, September 11, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    I heard some of these stories on the MacPhoneVideoThing but there were awesome to read about too. Don’t worry I still think you are a pro-star.

    (Your letter next week will be late - my internet at home has been down all week. I have your address on my Yahoo account so haven’t been able to access it. I’m writting this at work because for some reason blogs aren’t blocked but YahooMail is.)

    I have the same letter problem all the time. My old job at NRCan had me reading user names and passwords over the phone all the time and I would use the stupidist things “Uhh, Y as in Yak” to the point that the girl in the cubical next to me printed out at Phonetic Alphabet table to tape on the side of my computer screen. I now know NATO off by heart but if you want to be less army you can always use the Western Union one.

    Charlie - Hotel - Romeo - India - Sierra
    Chicago - Henry - Roger - Ida - Suger

  • By Lisa, September 12, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    hahah, I can definitely relate to a lot of this! Hang in there, it will get easier! :)

  • By Shaun, October 11, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    Well you now know that Newcastle Brown Ale is served in bottles not on tap!
    Were you in Revolution by any chance down near Central Station?

  • By Hezabelle, October 11, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

    Yeah, it was Revolution by Central Station.

    I really think Newcastle ought to be served on tap!

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment