Although it is nearly 20 years since I met my future (American) husband in England and began dating him, I was reminded about this time in our relationship when we recently entertained a lovely young couple in our home. We have known the young man (now in his early 30s) for many years and he used to visit us as a teenager in England, and he seemed keen to introduce us to his new girlfriend. These young people are both from the Southern USA, so have the advantage of understanding each other’s cultures and use of the English language….although he is very extroverted and she seems somewhat shy. They laughed about when they first met and the pickup line he used: “You look just like my future wife!”
My husband and I had no such cultural advantage and I can still clearly remember some of the challenges that we had by miscommunicating. I often remind him of the many times during the early months of our relationship when he kept telling me I was ‘quite’ attractive (which in British English means “fairly” or “a little bit”), but of course Americans usually use the word “quite” to mean “very.” Being a polite English girl, I did not challenge him about this insult for a long time, but somehow we made it through anyway.
One trap I did avoid, however, was I did not say “I’m easy”, which in England is an innocent expression meaning “I don’t mind” when asked a question, such as “where shall we eat tonight?” It is not an admission of loose morals in the UK and luckily even then I did have enough cultural awareness to know that it might not be interpreted by my future husband the way I meant it!
I thought it might be fun to share a few more ‘translations’ between the English and American dating worlds to once again demonstrate what Winston Churchill famously described as being “divided by a common language”:
* If a British man boasts to his friends (his “mates” in England) in the bar (“pub”) that he “got off” with a “fit bird” – he means that he “made out with an attractive woman”. It does not mean he disembarked with an athletic pigeon!
* If a British person says “All right, darling?” they mean to informally ask “how are you doing?” not “How are you, dearest love of my life?” This is even more extreme in the Midlands of England where they call strangers of the opposite sex “love”, and even more so in South West England where people routinely ask “All right, my lover?” My husband lived in the UK for 25 years, but this one still makes him cringe when a waitress or cashier asks this.
* When a Brit asks if you “fancy” someone, it means “do you find them attractive?”
* When a British person asks “for your mobile” they of course are asking for your “cell phone number”….hopefully to call you to arrange a date.
* British people never, ever double date. It would be seen as really very awkward. If more than one couple is involved, it is classed as “hanging out with friends.”
* Finally, a rather delicate one: In most of the USA if a man asks a woman to “shag,” it is of course to dance the St. Louis or Carolina Shag, two dances that originated in South Carolina in the 1940s based on the “Charleston.” However, in the UK it is a very coarse and usually inappropriate invitation to bed. While the Austin Powers movies have lead more Americans to understand this expression, it is still an important one to avoid while in the UK…..or to at least understand what it means!
Somehow, in spite of our differences in language and backgrounds, my husband and I made it through the cultural maze, even though we still laugh about our second date when he asked me a question no British man would have dreamed of vocalizing. He said “what do you think of me?,” and my response, which was “You’re kind of sweet in a crass, American, monied sort of way.”
I will leave you with some female wisdom which I can say I finally understand after nearly 15 years of marriage. This quote is from famous American movie star Natalie Wood: “The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he is a baby.”
God Bless America!
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