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Mind the Gap

December 08, 2016
by James Longenderfer

Most US study abroad students come to London not expecting any sort of language barriers, considering that we speak the same language. However, I was surprised to find out this is not the case, and have found myself in several situations in which there was a communication breakdown; usually resulting in a funny story. One of the first instances I came across were the greetings used by register workers.

"You alright?"

When I first heard this after buying a water bottle at Sainsbury's, I wasn't sure how to react. Do I look sad? Is he concerned for my well-being? I said something like, "uh, yeah" and went along with the purchase. It still feels weird hearing it even after 2 months being here, but I guess it doesn't make much more sense than "how are you doing today?" when you really think about it. One thing I did like about these interactions, though, is the use of "cheers" to wrap up the conversation. What a perfect, succinct, jolly way to leave someone. That's something I'll have to take back to the states.


A funny little intricacy of the Brits' politeness is the use of, "sorry," instead of "excuse me" when navigating packed areas. I don't think I've ever heard, "sorry," as much as I have over here, especially seeing as I travel on the tube during rush hour almost every day. I must say, it is a pretty satisfyingly way to politely push past people, much like, "cheers." Another funny thing about this is that they'll often say it back to you, even if you're the one inconveniencing them. You just don't see this kind of general politeness over in the states.

 You'll have to say a few, "sorrys," to get through this crowd

"Way out" | "Mind the gap"

Just another slight difference in the wording of common phrases you'll see on the tube, with, "way out" meaning, "exit to the street." "Mind the gap" is essentially warning the tube travelers to watch out for the gap between the train and platform when exiting the train. I'm not even sure if there's a US example of this, however, I haven't spent too much time in the big city while in the US.

 These are placed just in front of doors to warn passengers

 An example of a "Way out" sign

"English Breakfast"

When back in the US, I would drink an English tea that was titled "English Breakfast," essentially meaning it was an English black tea. So, when ordering an omelette at a local cafe, I mentioned I'd also like an English breakfast tea. The man looked at me quizzically, and clarified that I wanted the omelette, as well as a breakfast for me and another person. I had no idea what he was talking about, and re-stated what I had wanted. He quickly figured out that I just wanted the tea, and explained that if you asked for an English breakfast, you wanted a whole meal of eggs, sausage, biscuits, etc. for two people. In the future, I was told just say, "Tea," as it's so common that they know exactly what kind I want.

 The tea that caused this confusion

Problems understanding the accent

One of funniest situations I encountered was due to misunderstanding the accent. I was at Argos, a department store in which you order something on a website, then the employee will go to the back of the store to collect your items. I was coming to collect a clothes drying rack, which they called an "airer" over here. I tell her my transaction number, and she brings it up, saying what sounds like, "Alright, it says it's an error." I checked my email again, thinking maybe I gave her the wrong number. "Error" again. I replied, saying that I had just ordered it using my credit card, and it had already charged my account. Was there any way she could help me? She was just as confused as I was at this point, and told me to wait as she went to the back. She came back with my airer! It was then that I realized she was saying "airer" the whole time. Needless to say, I exited the store with my tail between my legs.

 "Airer," not "error"

James L. is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO in London, England. He is currently a senior studying Business Management at West Chester University of Pennsylvania
James Longenderfer is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO Blogger in London, England, and is currently studying at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
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