Rules, Britannia: An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom

Rules, Britannia: An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom

by Toni Summers Hargis

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How do you respond to a dinner invitation that says "Eight for eight thirty"? What might induce you to get off a London train at a place called Mud Chute? When is it okay to drive over a sleeping policeman? And why do teh Brits keep saying "Who's she, the cat's mother"?

Rules, Britannia is an invaluable resource for Americans who want to make a smooth transition when visiting or relocating to the UK. This entertaining and practical insider's guide contains scores of established do's and dont's that only a Brit would know.

Most of us know that an elevator is called a "lifet," a toilet is a "loo," and the trunk of your car is the "boot," but who would have a clue about a "sprog" or a "gobsmacked berk"? These phrases are part of daily conservation in the UK, and leave many visiting Americans as baffled as if they listening to a foreign language.

Covering such essential topics as vocabulary, house- or "flat"-hunting, business culture, child rearing, and even relationship etiqutte, Rules, Britannia will ease the anxiety that comes with a transatlantic move or extended visit, and is sure to make any old Yank feel like a regular Joe Bloggs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429905190
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 274 KB

About the Author

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit, living in the United States. In a former life she was a business writer and organization development consultant, with a Law Degree from Bristol University, England and a Masters from Loyola University, Chicago. She currently serves as personal chef and chauffeur to her three children and writes in her spare time. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and children and visits the UK at least once a year.

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit, living in the United States. In a former life she was a business writer and organization development consultant, with a Law Degree from Bristol University, England and a Masters from Loyola University, Chicago. She currently serves as personal chef and chauffeur to her three children and writes in her spare time. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and children and visits the UK at least once a year.

Read an Excerpt

Rules, Britannia

By Toni Summers Hargis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Toni Summers Hargis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0519-0


Regions and Their Differences

First things first — the Brits actually don't call themselves Brits. I do here for convenience but would never do it in the UK. People in the UK tend to say they're English, Irish, Scottish/Scots, or Welsh. ("Scotch" refers to the drink.) Passports, however, state the nationality of all people living in the UK and Northern Ireland as "British." Try asking someone if they're British, and most "Brits" will correct you and say, "Actually, I'm English, Welsh," and so on. It's basically the same as lumping Americans and Canadians together.

According to the CIA's World Fact Book, the United Kingdom is slightly smaller than Oregon; however, you'll find an alarming number of regional differences even within a fifty-mile radius. Like many Brits, I can tell if a person is from my hometown, or from a town ten miles away, by the accent and use of different words and phrases. In the Northeast of England, "bonnie" means pretty, while further south, in Yorkshire, it can mean "fat"; as you can see, there's a lot of opportunity to really put your foot in your mouth. "Cannie" describes a really nice person in the Northeast, but in Scotland refers to someone who is street-smart, careful with money, or even sly.

As in the United States, there is a north/south divide in England, although not so much in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It's the opposite to the States in that Northerners are the ones who are supposed to be less sophisticated and one step removed from cavemen. A closer look at the UK however, reveals a much more complex fabric.

The north/south question is very subjective and partly driven by snobbery. The southern joke is that the north begins at Watford, a mere thirty miles north of London. As someone from the far north east of England, I am bunched together with people from Manchester and Birmingham as "northerners" and yet I have nothing in common with them other than not being from London. In fact, Birmingham is far closer to London than it is to Newcastle. To me, Birmingham is not in the north of England, being geographically situated less than halfway up.

If you travel around the UK for any length of time, you will soon appreciate the differences from one region to another, both in culture and accent.

Sometimes the accents are so different that people from opposite ends of the country (a mere one thousand or so miles) can barely understand each other. People from Glasgow and Cornwall might as well be speaking in different languages. There's not a lot I can do to help you here, except warn you that you will be faced with seemingly unintelligible conversation from time to time. Unfortunately, asking the speaker to slow down rarely makes him or her more intelligible.

Bear in mind also that most Brits are only used to hearing the generic American accent of TV shows. You may think you don't have an accent, but the look on people's faces when you talk to them will soon set you straight. If you know you have a heavy accent, save yourself hours of repetition and slow down! Having said that, be prepared to repeat yourself when addressing someone for the first time. They're usually concentrating more on the fact that you have a strange accent than on the words you're using. On some occasions you'll even see the mouth drop open a few inches.

Unlike Americans, the Brits don't really pay a lot of attention to their ancestry, since most of them have lived in the same country for many generations. If you say you're Italian or Irish, but are speaking with an undeniable American accent, there'll be a look or two of skepticism from any Brits around. If you have a strong southern accent, but say you're from New York, expect some confusion or disbelief. That's because if you ask a Brit where she's from, you'll likely be told her birthplace rather than where she lives now.

Often, the regions, cities, and their inhabitants have nicknames, which are used regularly in the UK:

• Birmingham — the people are called "Brummies" and the accent is "Brummy." Birmingham is sometimes referred to as "Brum." The area around Birmingham is also known as the Black Country.

• The Black Country — comprises the areas north and west of Birmingham, but not Birmingham itself.

• Blighty — nickname for England, from the Hindu bilayati meaning "foreign."

• Border country — refers to the counties of England and Scotland on either side of the border, or the border between Wales and England.

• The Broads, or Norfolk Broads — a stretch of very flat land in the county of Norfolk, near the seaside town of Great Yarmouth, on the east coast.

• Bristol — the residents are Bristolians and their accent is Bristolian. However, because of the accent, Bristol sometimes sounds like "Brizzle." (People from the West Country in general are often referred to as "carrot crunchers.")

• Channel Isles — off the French coast of Normandy, in the English Channel; they comprise Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, and a handful of smaller islands.

• Fen country — refers to Lincolnshire and parts of Cambridgeshire; here the land is extremely flat and boggy.

• Glasgow (by the way, it's pronounced "Glazzgo," not "Glass Cow") — the people are Glaswegians ("Glazweejans"), and their accent is unintelligible. (Just kidding!)

• Home Counties — refers to the counties surrounding London, whence many people commute into the City.

• The Isle of Man — both the people and the accent are called Manx; there is also a Manx cat that has no tail.

• The Lakes — the Lake District, on the northwest border of England and Scotland.

• Liverpool — people living there are either Liverpudlians or Scousers. Their accent is called "Scouse" (soft "s"). The region is Merseyside (pronounce the first "s" like a "z").

• London (which is a city, not a town) — the residents are generally known as Londoners, although you can call yourself a Cockney if you were born within the sound of Bow Bells. St. Mary-le-Bow Church (or Bow Church) is situated in Cheapside. London is sometimes referred to as "The Smoke."

• Manchester — there you'll find Mancunians (hard "c"); their accent is Mancunian.

• The Midlands — southerners think the Midlands start just north of London, but this is really the area around Birmingham, Coventry, and Leicester.

• Newcastle-upon-Tyne — The people are called Geordies ("Jordies") and they have a Geordie accent. The region is Tyneside.

• The Northeast — The northeast of England: the cities of Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland, York, and surrounding areas.

• The Peak District — an area in the middle of England, between Sheffield and Manchester; a favorite of walkers and nature lovers.

• The Pennines — the area of England around the Pennine Mountains, in the mid-Northeast.

• The Potteries — a group of small towns in Staffordshire making up Stoke-on-Trent.

• The provinces — anywhere outside London.

• The Shetlands and the Orkneys — small groups of remote islands off the northern tip of Scotland.

• Snowdonia — the mountain region in the west of Wales.

• The Western Isles — remote islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Remember that, just as your knowledge of British geography might not be very detailed, the Brits won't know where many places are in the USA, other than the big cities. In particular, regional names or nicknames will be totally foreign to them. These include Cajun, Canuck, Cheesehead, Creole, Hoozier, Polack, redneck, wet back, and any references to Native Americans or the Mason-Dixon line. Also, since there are not as many Spanish speakers living in the UK, assume that most Brits won't know even a few words in Spanish — French, German, or Latin, perhaps, but not Spanish!


Many place names in the United Kingdom have extremely peculiar spellings, and even the Brits don't know how to pronounce them all. However, there are a few key places that you might want to pronounce correctly, or at least recognize the correct pronunciation when you hear it. If you are traveling in Wales, Scotland, and parts of the Southwest, the place names may be in Welsh, Gaelic, or Cornish, and any attempt at pronunciation will be painful to you and the locals. It's best to do what every other visitor does — ask or point!

Most Welsh places beginning with "double ell" are impossible to attempt unassisted. Best bet is to have a few lessons from a friendly, Welsh-speaking native — in the pub if possible. It's a fantastic language to listen to and your attempts will provide hours of mirth to you and your coach. I lived in Wales as a small child, and I'm just glad the place was called Criccieth.

You might thank me for these pointers:

• "Folk" — Any place name with "-folk" on the end is pronounced as in the four-letter expletive rather than "foke." I kid you not! Therefore places like Norfolk and Suffolk are in fact pronounced "Norfuk" and "Suffuk."

• "Ford" — Names of places with "ford" in them are truncated. You don't pronounce this word as you would the car maker, but squash it together and simply pronounce the "f" and the "d." Examples of such places include Hertford (pronounced "Hartfd"), Dartford, and Hereford. However, if you come across a place beginning with "Ford," you pronounce the word as in the car maker — e.g., Fordham, except the "h" would be silent (see below). Got it?

• "Ham" — Brits more or less ignore the "-ham" found at the end of many place names. Birmingham is pronounced "Birming'm." Nottingham becomes "Notting'm." Other examples include Fulham in London (Full'm), Durham (Dur'm), and Dagenham (Dagen'm).

• "Mouth" — Anything ending with "-mouth" is pronounced "muth." E.g., Plymouth is "Plimuth" (not rhyming with "fly"), Weymouth is "Waymuth," and Portsmouth is "Portsmuth." Since the "mouth" part of the name refers to the mouth of a river, you'll usually find these places on the coast somewhere. An exception I can think of (and there are surely more) is Tynemouth, which is pronounced as you'd expect.

• "Shire" — Any county (and they are all counties) that ends with "-shire" is not pronounced that way. For example, most people pronounce "Leicestershire" as "Lestershu" or "Lestersha"; Yorkshire is pronounced "Yorkshu" or "Yorksha." (Basically, what I'm trying to do here is to cut short the sound of the "shire" part.) Confusingly, sometimes the "shire" is pronounced more like "sheer."

• "Wich" — Unfortunately, place names ending in "-wich" can either have the "w" pronounced — or not. I can help you out with a few of them, but others will no doubt trip you up. Greenwich, in London, is pronounced "Grenidge," while the Aldwych is the "Aldwidge." Sandwich, in Kent, is pronounced like the one you eat.

• "Wick" — Most names ending in "-wick" have a silent "w." Berwick and Alnwick, both near the English/Scottish border, are pronounced "Berrick" and "Annick." Warwick is "Warrick," and Chiswick in London is "Chizzick."

• Berkshire is pronounced "Barkshu" or "Barksha." Its real name is Royal Berkshire, but people usually drop the royal bit. You'll also hear it simply referred to as Berks (pronounced "Barks") from time to time.

• Derby and Derbyshire — Pronounced "Darby" and "Darbyshu" or "Darbysha."

• Edinburgh — The "G" in this word is silent. People say "Edinbura" or "Edinbru"; either would be understood. What you tend not to hear is "Edinburrow."

• Glasgow — Pronounced "Glazz Go" as opposed to "Glass Cow." I hate to be picky about this, but it drives the natives crazy.

• Gloucester and Gloucestershire — pronounced "Gloster" and "Glostershu/Glostersha." Definitely not "Glowsestershire."

• Hampshire — This, you'll be pleased to learn, is pronounced as you'd expect; don't forget to truncate the "shire," though. Some people will say they live in Hants instead of Hampshire. Don't ask me where the "n" comes from. Similarly, Northamptonshire is often called North Hants.

• Hertford and Hertfordshire — Both are pronounced as in "heart." Don't forget not to say "ford" but "fd." If you can pronounce Herfordshire correctly, you've been paying attention. It would be pronounced "Hartfdsha"! Again, you might hear someone saying they live in Herts (pronounced "Hearts"), and this would also be Hertfordshire.

• Leicester — Both the city and the square in London are pronounced "Lester." Similarly, Bicester is pronounced "Bisster."

• Loughborough is pronounced "Luffbura."

• Shrewsbury is pronounced "Shroosbury" or "Shrowsbree," depending on where you come from.

• Slough is pronounced "Slow," rhyming with "cow."

• The river that runs through London is the Thames. The "h" is ignored and the "a" sounds like "e." Pronounce it "Tems." (Really!)

You'll also need to know that Scots are often called "Joch" or "Jock," the Welsh "Taffy," and the Irish "Paddy." There seems to be no common name given to the English, although the term "Joe Bloggs" or "Joe Soap" is the English equivalent of John Doe.

And finally, I'm not saying this to alarm you, but the Brits use different names for the same things depending on where they live. As an American, you may know what a scallion is. In the UK it is called a spring onion and many southerners have never even heard the alternative word "scallion." If you are going to be staying in a specific region for any length of time, do yourself a favor and buy a local destination guide when you get there. Also look up the place on the Internet, as there are usually Web sites for and by locals, which will give you a flavor of the region, as well as a more local vocabulary.


Words That Guarantee Giggles

There are many words in the United States that you say every day without a second thought that will sound hilarious to the Brits. There are also words in their vocabulary that will crease you up. My favorite, for some reason, is the American "behoove." Not sure why, but it just cracks me up every time I hear it! And you have to admit that the British "behove" has a slightly more intelligent ring to it. (Oops, there I go, pontificating again!)

My purpose in forewarning you about these words is not to deprive you of a good laugh, but to help prevent inappropriate laughter, since many of these words come up in serious, professional settings. (Well, okay, not the first one!)

• Lasso/lassoo — Americans say "lasso" and Brits "lassoo." I suppose, since there are far fewer cowboys in the UK, the American version is correct, but don't tell the Brits that — and don't laugh too loudly!

• Also expect a few titters when you say the word "herb." The Brits pronounce the "h" and to them, "erb" sounds like half a word. Incidentally, when speaking British English, you can always hear the "h" in "human" but not in "vehicle." Also quite funny is the fact that the Brits say "titbit" while Americans say "tidbit"; and the American "hodgepodge" becomes "hotchpotch." Then of course there's "schedule" — Americans all over the planet get the biggest kick out of the British version, pronounced "shedyool."

• Van Gogh — people from both sides of the pond will laugh at the way the other side pronounces this name. The Brits say "Van Goff" and the "Goff" part is pronounced as in "off" rather than "go." When they hear an American saying "Van Go," some Brits might not even understand whom you're talking about. And you'll be surprised how many times this name comes up in coversation. While we're discussing artists, the Brits pronounce Monet slightly differently. The "o" sounds more like the "o" in coffee, and the emphasis is on the first syllable. Of course, when an American says "coffee," it doesn't sound anything like the way the Brits say "Monet," and you could end up discussing Manet.

• Several other seemingly similar words will cause mutual chuckles when they're pronounced out loud. For "yogurt" the Brits pronounce the first syllable like "fog" rather than "go"; "pasta" and "basil" are pronounced with a flat "a," as in "fast"; "oregano" has the emphasis on the third syllable rather than the second. Perhaps one of the funniest to the Brits will be the American pronunciation of "buoy," and I guarantee they won't know what the heck you're talking about unless you're actually pointing at one. They pronounce it "boy," and since it's not a word that comes up on American TV shows too often, you'll be able to count on one hand the number of Brits who have ever heard your version of its pronunciation — if you say "boowee," that is! "Pianist," in the UK, only has two distinct syllables, making it sound more like "penis" to the American ear.

• The first time I heard about "Fat Tuesday," I fell about. The Brits call it Pancake Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday.

• The office is also good for a few nervous giggles: in the UK people ask for a "rise" in salary, and use a "rubber" to erase their errors.

• The Brits refer to their underpants as "pants" and their outer garments as "trousers." Asking someone's opinion, for example, on what pants you should wear for the office party will probably cause confusion or embarrassment, and most definitely, nervous giggles.

• Little girls wear "panties," grown women do not. I still cannot bring myself to call my underwear "panties," and you'll probably receive some odd looks with this one. "Knickers" is the most common word, although others you may come across include "underwear," "briefs," and "smalls."

• The Brits often refer to their pet German Shepherds as "Alsatians," which, for some reason, Americans find hilarious. Beats me, but there you go. Also on the subject of animals, while we all call unnaturally white animals "albinos," the Brits often pronounce this word "albeeno."


Excerpted from Rules, Britannia by Toni Summers Hargis. Copyright © 2006 Toni Summers Hargis. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. Regions and Their Differences,
2. Words That Guarantee Giggles,
3. Words That Guarantee Embarrassment,
4. Words That Guarantee Confusion,
5. Out and About,
6. Drive Time,
7. Home, Sweet Home,
8. Grub and Other Delicacies,
9. Dining (In or Out),
10. That's Entertainment,
11. Shop Till You Drop,
12. At Your Service,
13. Managing with Small Children,
14. School's Out,
15. Taking a Vacation,
16. Celebrate!,
17. Weddings, Funerals, and Everything In Between,
18. The World of Work,
19. Attire and Accessories,
20. Crime and Violence,
21. Naughty Bits,
22. Miscellany ... and Manners,

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Rules, Britannia: An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
FoodandHistory More than 1 year ago
It's okay. I enjoyed it, and at a lower price point, I don't mind the sort of informal, messy style. You'll find some inelegant writing to be sure, and the obvious formula of the book will start to wear a little. You're not going to find any Earth-shattering information here, but it's a well-researched read, and decent enough for a few bucks.
JRuel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book thinking it would be an entertaining account of the mores of the British, but it's really a bare-bones "so you want to move to Great Britain" guide. The chapter on how to pronounce names of places is useful and fun, though.
Oreillynsf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fun book about the social norms and habits of Britons. The writer has an excellent sense of humor and a deep love for the wonder and absurdity of British eccentricities. I read this as prep for another trip to the UK, and have to say that I saw a lot more and laughed a lot more after reading it than before. There are a number of similar books out on this topic, but Hargis definitely has a gift for the turn of phrase and is adept at delivering the sly witticism.
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