I have been working with a lovely real-estate agent recently and, while I now consider myself bilingual in American English and English English, I have been reminded yet again of the famous quote by Second World War British Prime Minister Winston Churchill commenting on the U.K. and USA — “Two nations divided by a common language.”
I have learned some new words and phrases in the world of real estate and homes here in the U.S., which are very different than those back in Britain. For starters, a real-estate agent or Realtor is called an “estate agent” in the U.K., an attorney is called a “solicitor,” liability insurance is “third party insurance,” and when you are talking about curb appeal, the English spell it “kerb.” And the British have an unusual word for an unsavory but all-too-common and perfectly legal practice: “gazumping.” This is what a new buyer does when he comes along before completion of a deal and takes it away from the previous buyer by offering more at the last minute.
When it comes to seeking a new home, here are a few translations:
• If you are looking for a home in an apartment building, the British would look in “a block of flats.” A townhouse is a “terrace house,” a duplex is a “semi-detached house” and the closest thing to a ranch house (which doesn’t really exist in the U.K.) is a “bungalow.”
• Once your realtor has figured out what type of home you would like, there is more potential for confusion. You approach the building not from a sidewalk but a “pavement”; a yard is a “garden” (even if it is only grass and not a plot of vegetable plants); and if you are in an apartment building, the janitor is the “caretaker.” When you take the elevator — called a “lift” in the U.K. — the British describe the first floor as the “ground floor” and the second floor as the “first floor”! This took me years to adjust to here in the USA, and now when I return to England to visit, I usually make the mistake the other way round!
• Once you get inside your potential future home, a closet is a “wardrobe” or “cupboard,” a living room is a “sitting” room or “the lounge,” where you would sit on a “settee” rather than a sofa, a stove is a “cooker,” and the sheers on the windows are “net curtains” (or is it the other way around?).
The world of personal hygiene in the home is another minefield. For a start, the bathroom is just that — the room where the bathtub is. This is sometimes in a different room from the one that has the toilet. If you asked the average English person where the bathroom is, they would assume you wanted to bathe, which might seem strange if you just popped in for a cup of tea! And we would never describe a house as having two and a half baths — we would say “two full bathrooms plus a loo.”
Confused yet? Try emigrating!
Finally, when I was a young British girl in London in the 1970s, the technology in my home was obviously much simpler than today, but usually described very differently from Americans. The radio was generally called “the wireless,” TV was “the telly” and the telephone was “the blower.” At least we did not have computers to worry about then!
Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the eight-volume “Little House on the Prairie” series of children’s books on which the TV show was based half a century later, said “Home is the nicest word there is.” Amen to that, Laura. That’s true in all languages.
God bless America!
Contact Frances at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com