I’m British. Judging by the title of this piece, I probably didn’t need to add that, but I felt compelled to justify myself. It has been sixteen years since I left England (with my British accent), and moved first to Singapore and then to America. Sixteen years is a long time. In that time, my kids went from little children to fully fledged adults, I went from being a teacher to being a full-time author, and my accent went from being British, to being… well, that is debatable.
For sure, my British accent has mellowed. As a kid, I grew up sounding like Cilla Black, and Paul McCartney. I didn’t actually come from Liverpool, but across the River Mersey from there… what they called a ‘wooly back’. My soft Scouse accent was not considered Liverpudlian enough, by those born in Liverpool, but was made fun of for being full-on ‘Scouser’ thirty miles down the road, in Manchester. One of my earliest memories at college there, was asking for directions at the train station, and the guy on the platform saying, “Bloody hell, you can tell you got off the Liverpool train!” (Except he said it with a Mancunian accent.)
It took me by surprise, as the only time I ever thought I sounded like I was from Liverpool was when I heard myself recorded. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that was a quirk of the tape recorder, butchering my voice. I liked to think, I had a more neutral, ‘posher’ accent than that. You see, in England, northern accents–of which there are many–are not regarded in high esteem.
I should probably put a disclaimer in here somewhere, *by those with southern accents.
Britain Is Regional
Britain is actually full of accents. They are very regional, so regional that twenty or thirty miles down the road there is a completely different one. No kidding. And it’s not just the accents either, it’s words we use for common everyday things that change. For instance, in Norfolk, they call ladybirds (ladybugs to Americans) bishy barnabees. How cute is that? Cute and totally indecipherable if you aren’t from Norfolk, right?
Seriously, if you are born in the UK, you have to be multilingual.
If you go into a store and ask for a barm/ barm cake roll, stottie, cob, bin-lid, teacake, oggie, lardy cake, breadcake, rowie, bap, muffin, or batch you will essentially be given the same thing, a bread roll. However, the way you ask for it says something about you. It gives away exactly where you were born and what social class you put yourself into.
Now technically, if you lined all these ‘bread rolls’ up, you would see subtle differences. If you gave me a barm or batch instead of a cob, I’d be unhappy. I like my bread very ‘crusty’, preferably with a nice big air bubble in it. I’m happy when it shatters when you bite into it and then fights you when you try to rip it off.
That’s a cob roll.
Not a batch or a barm.
That’s not to say, that I don’t like a batch now and then. Certain stuff, bacon for instance, requires white bread, doughy, with extra flour sprinkled on top. I do not want crusty bread with my bacon butty!
The thing is, all over England, when you walk into a sandwich shop and place an order, you inadvertently proudly claim your heritage by the term you use. But no one blinks, no one looks at you blankly, they all translate automatically, and hand you a sandwich on a bread roll.
When I moved to America, it was the first time that I became aware that I not only had an accent, but that apparently, I spoke a completely different language altogether. In fact, it was so different that often I couldn’t even be remotely understood.
My British Accent
In Pot Belly’s, I asked for ‘Chewna on wheat’–which, I’d proudly learned was how to order a sandwich in America. You have to name the type of bread they use, not the style of roll they put it on.
The assistant serving me, stared back.
Me: “No, Chewna.”
I was losing my patience by now, but with typical British politeness, I smiled and repeated my request again, showing no annoyance to the person who was obviously going out of their way to misunderstand me. But to no avail. Exhausting all the usual sandwich fillings, except for the one I actually wanted, they looked at me apologetically…
Them: “Could you point to it?”
After I eventually got my Tooooona sandwich, I should have quit while I was ahead. But no. I was thirsty.
Me: “Could I have, a wot-toah.”
Them: “Iced tea?’
Me: “Actually, I changed my mind, just the sandwich.”
Similar scenes have played out across America. For the most part, I have managed to get by, pretending I speak the language by putting on an American accent for certain words. However, there are some words, I find it impossible to say with an American accent, or are so drilled into my psyche that I can’t make myself butcher it; ga-rij, parm-a-san, baas-sil, mum, for instance. But these days, thankfully, I have a little 5-year-old translator in my grandson who helps me out in times of difficulty. We are very proud of him, he is bilingual in American and British English.
All this, I can perfectly understand. Even though I no longer sound like Paul McCartney, and despite everyone in England being convinced that I speak like a Yank, I realize that to all Americans, I still have what they mainly describe as a ‘cute British accent’.
Although I have enough grounding in American to translate most words that are completely different– boot to trunk, bonnet to hood, pavement to sidewalk–every now and then, I have a mental block. Like recently, during a kitchen installation, when I said hob and then had to look up a picture of my cooktop because I just could not think of the translated word (thank God for Google.)
However, it appears that my accent is not confined to the spoken word, but the written one too, and unfortunately, having a British accent in writing is not so ‘cute’.
On the whole, after sixteen years, I have managed to lose most Briticisms from my work, along with the spellings of ‘ou’, and double ‘ss’. To catch the stuff that I don’t see–because, well, it is my native language, so it does look right to me–I use an American editor and an American proof reader, and it always seems like they catch a new British phrase. I got my manuscript back from my editor a couple of days ago. She likes to provide me with an American alternative to switch out the offending British one. This time the phrase was “Damn cheek!”
Her note to me had me in stitches. “Angela, I had to look this up because I was confused—British term. I think in USA it is similar to “damn bum” or “damn fool” in case you want to change it.” (She’s always so polite.)
‘Damn Cheek’, does not translate as any of those things! But I do admire her for trying. So, just for fun, anyone who is a ‘native American speaker’ want to hazard a guess at a good translation? Go on, have a go, I like a good giggle. *Answer at bottom of page.
Tea and Crumpets
By now, you have probably been wondering what my blog title has to do with any of my blog post. Well, as an expat, there are things I really miss from back home. Tea, is number 1, of course. Sorry, America, but when you threw the tea in Boston harbor, you should have asked for the recipe first. Sixteen years, is a long time to go without one decent cup of tea, and as I drink around six a day, sometimes more, one of the first things I had to do was find a source of British tea bags, at a reasonable price. Thank you, Amazon! I now buy PG Tips in boxes of 2000, on repeat order, because I’d have a mental breakdown if I actually ran out!
For some unfathomable reason, I have been craving crumpets, recently. That is not to be mistaken for wanting crumpet. That means two VERY different things in England!!!
Now, in their essence, crumpets are yet another type of bread, but they would NEVER be used in a sandwich. Crumpets are primarily a breakfast food, or served in an archetypal English cream tea. Circular, and made from a dough that is sticky and loose, it has rows of vertical holes. It is cooked in a frying pan–a bit like pancakes (American versions, not British ones) or drop scones. They are great served hot, with butter that fills up those holes. I prefer mine rounded off with marmalade.
This week, I learned to make them from scratch. It’s something I would never have considered doing in the UK because they are available so cheaply in every grocery store. But due to my craving, and the, um, distinct lack of crumpet (actually, this means something else entirely, too), I made them myself. And, pardon my English, they were bloody delicious.
I’m making more tomorrow, so anyone who wants to, pop around for tea and crumpets, we will be serving them around 4pm.
For those of you who enjoy dual-language books, I have an extensive list on Amazon. Many are hiding out in lots of Authors’ Billboard boxed sets.
Learn more about me and what I write at my website.
The manuscript I spoke of earlier, the one with the now corrected ‘Damn Cheek’ will be available in the up and coming boxed set, Cute but Crazy: Unique and Unpredictable. I’m excited to release this book, my first rom-com, exclusively to this boxed set, first!
Glossary of “British Accent” terms:
- Wooly back- person born in Birkenhead, or south of the River Mersey but still in Merseyside
- Scouse/ scouser, Liverpudlian- dialect spoken in Liverpool or coming from Liverpool
- Mancunian – accent/ dialect of people from Manchester
- ga-rij, parm-a-san, baas-sil, chew-na: garage, Parmesan cheese, basil (herb), Tuna
- wot-toah – water
- Hob – cooktop
- wanting crumpet – desiring sex
- lack of crumpet – a distinct absence of good looking girls present
- bloody delicious – really tasty
- Damn cheek! – What a nerve!/ The nerve of it!
Angela Stevens is an Amazon International Best Selling Author. Her steamy romance novel, Nolan’s Resolution, from the highly popular multi-author series, After Hurricane Nina, hit #1 New Release on Amazon in America, Canada and the UK.
Her 5 book debut series, Hockey Punk, is a sports romance series set around her adopted town near DC and revolves around her favorite sport of ice hockey. Writing in both contemporary romance and contemporary fantasy genres, Angela portrays gritty characters with emotionally charged plots and is not afraid to tackle difficult social issues in her fiction. If you pick up one of her romances, you may have to order an extra supply of tissues, but Angela Stevens will always deliver you a HEA and some smoldering hot scenes to get you there.