The Difference

The difference between living in Canada and living in the United Kingdom or Great Britain or England is vast and large. My husband and I relocated from Vancouver, British Columbia to London, England in March and I have yet to acclimatize. I thought it would be instantaneous. Heck, Canada was founded and colonised by the Brits in 1867. So how different can it be?

It can be different.

Okay, so it’s not Yemen or Turkmenistan. There is running water and electricity and we get mail hand-delivered to our door, even on Saturdays! But it is still an adjustment, one that I am working out each day.

We do speak the same language, sort of. There are three distinct dialects in England: Southern, Midlands, and Northern and within them each has various intricacies and pronunciations and grammar. All of which is difficult and sometimes impossible to decipher, especially when ordering a coffee. Then they have the gall to tell me I am the one with the accent.

The Brits have very specific vocabulary, which takes words we North Americans know and love and turns them into something completely different. For instance, they call the trunk of a car a “boot”. But we all know what a boot is, and it’s not the trunk of a car. They call an elevator a “lift”, but we know what a lift is: a verb.

When we moved to England or the United Kingdom or Great Britain or whatever you want to call it, we had quite the learning curve. We had been living in our cottage (500-years-old, no heat or hot water, very quaint) for three weeks before we got an angry notice from the council. We were unaware of this thing called “council tax”: a tax for local services that must be paid monthly, based on how your house looks from the outside. We stopped trimming our hedges after that.

We also got a notice from TV Licensing that read, “watching TV without a TV license is against the law and could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000” (approx. $1650 CAD). Apparently the Television Licensing Authority (or TVLA) has enforcement officers with detection capabilities, to see if you have been watching TV without a valid license. FYI: The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in all of Europe, no license needed.

We shelled out £144 pounds ($235 CAD) for the TV licence and were very sorry to find out that there was nothing on. The Brits love their documentaries (see BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4), and not much else. Many a cold night has been spent fooling around on the couch (Brits: settee) instead of watching Survivor or The Bachelor, which at times I would prefer (the Brits love their hummus, and so does my husband). If there was something decent on the “telly”- and you didn’t have to pay £144 to watch it- maybe there would be a decrease in teen pregnancy, and an increase in marital satisfaction.

We live in a “Royal” Borough, which basically means it has the legal right to be called Royal, because the Queen bestowed royal status on it. It doesn’t mean much else. The garbage (Brits: rubbish) still only gets picked up once a week. It’s just one of those things, an undeserved title on something or someone because the Queen said so (note: if the Queen would like to nominate me for a Lady, Duchess, Countess, Baroness, Marchioness, or Viscountess… I will not deny her). The Queen basically runs the show. She has the last word on everything- just like me in an argument- except on a larger scale.

The one good thing about England or Great Britain or the United Kingdom (I really should learn what that’s all about) is that it is a very social culture. People go out: to the theatre, to the pub, to art galleries. Cashiers at the grocery store (Brits: Tesco) say hello and make small talk about the ever-changing weather. Neighbours welcome you to the neighbourhood with a smile, and two bottles of wine.

And little old ladies at the bus stop smile at you and ask you where you’re from and want to know all about you. And when you have been someplace for about eight months and you feel a little bit homesick and a little bit lonely, sometimes that’s enough.

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4 thoughts on “The Difference

  1. Ceinwenn says:

    Great post! Welcome to the UK (albiet, a bit late, but then I only just “met” you, lol) You’ll get used to the accents & you’ve only scratched the surface! Toss in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales & Cornwall & then we’ll talk accents!!

  2. danielsladen says:

    Mmmm, some way to go on the accents. I wouldn’t recommend accusing anyone of having a northern dialect, and particularly not suggesting two people from different parts of northern England have the same accent. Within the north-east alone you have three different ones – Geordie (Newcastle), Mackham (Sunderland) and further distinct variant in Middlesborough. Very dangerous to confuse these, particularly in a football pub.

    As you head west you end up with essentially the same things with added oo-arr until you get to the opposite coast where you hit the scouse zone, strengthening as you get to Liverpool. Then there’s the 463 Yorkshire dialects (each of which is “true” Yorkshire according to the users) and that’s before we even get into the Midlands where at the very least you have Brummie, Black Country, and Notts/Derby East Midlands, which again breaks down into loads of smaller groups. DH Lawrence gives a good phonetic rendering of some of these.

    Professor Henry Higgins will explain all in My Fair Lady if you want to know more about accents; less fictional than you’d think, I’ve heard experts locate the source of particular English accent down to about half a mile with repeated success.

    Btw, the licence fee is entirely for The Thick Of It and Strictly. Which is enough…

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