Pants and Peace Signs

There isn’t much culture shock coming to England. It’s nothing new, but I’ll just start with that. Seeing “Starbucks” and “Pret A Mangers” in between silhouettes of The Millennium Eye and Big Ben contributes quite a bit to feeling like home in the midst of all the museums and royal splendor. But that’s not to say that there are still social quirks in London that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Londoners are characters; calm but cosmopolitan; proud but accepting— yet that only scratches the surface of the city people.

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** that would be me in the “pretentious, suburban, intellectual” section.

In London alone the accents and backgrounds and appearances differ wildly by the street, making it impossible to blend in (like, say, a study abroad student may try and fail to do). Much like me I feel like every Londoner has something new to learn each day from the people around them. So here’s a jiffy-quick guide to the pengest tips I’ve learned about surviving at an English Uni thus far:

  1. If “trousers” are pants, then what are “pants”? … Underwear. If you say, “It’s raining outside and my pants are soaked,” you and the locals may not be on quite the same page.
  2. “Jacket Potatoes” are regrettably not potatoes clad in a suit and tie, but merely (delicious) baked potatoes.
  3. The “Subway” is just a fast food chain— you have to use the “Tube” to get anywhere. The world is your Oyster as long as you have an Oyster Card.
  4. Pints. All food and drink are by the metric system of measurement, so I may as well be measuring out my cider in test tubes (which after quite a few milliliters can get pretty challenging).
  5. The Backwards peace sign. Evidently in the U.K. it’s not a nice thing to do… and evidently I do it a lot.

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This comparison of curses, if you will, leads to a greater comparison of cultures. Slang may differ country to country, but there are many words that don’t even exist in the English language (in both the U.K and the U.S.). I’ve compiled a list of my favorites here:

  1. Voorpret: (Dutch)(n.) the pre-fun, the enjoyment felt before a party or event takes place. Example: a student in London for six months and trying to contain irrational excitement at the adventures with every new city block.
  2. Dépaysment: (French)(n.) the disorientation felt by being in a foreign country or culture, the sense of being a fish out of water. Example: crossing the pond to what lies beyond.
  3. Fernweh: (German)(n.) the desire to go where one has never been before. Example: I’ve already booked my plane tickets to continental Europe.
  4. Kuidaore: (Japanese)(v.) to eat yourself into bankruptcy. Example: crawling through English pubs every evening, splurging at markets over weekends, and finishing each day with a hearty serving of local gelato might lead me to bankruptcy sooner than I’d like.
  5. Meraki: (Greek)(v.) to do something with soul, creativity, or love; when you leave a piece of yourself in your work or a place that you’ve been. Example: this blog documenting the little things that London has already left with me, and that I hope I can eventually leave on London.

As a student of words— how we learn, write, and connect using them— I feel that it’s important to find the perfect terms to describe our experiences. But as someone who’s still new to London those words are only just forming. After all, in this post all I’ve done is steal phrases that are common to others in a smattering of tongues that aren’t even my own. But thankfully, and with much “voorpret,” I have another 19 weeks to put London in my own language.

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