Welcome, Internet, to The London Re-Pat, where I will be documenting my repatriation to my UK birthplace after having been raised the majority of my life in the great state of New York. Though I always felt I had a dual identity somehow — like Bruce Wayne and Batman — it turns out I knew very little of the British side, obviously represented by the dashing tuxedo model Bruce Wayne and also because my daily childhood life resembled that of Batman. Despite my family’s affinity for certain words or phrases which I assumed were just the family vernacular, and British sweets and book series (Enid Blyton 4 Life), I now know that I didn’t know much at all about life in the UK. In the ’80s, my parents had been resident aliens in London for a decade, during which time my sister and I were born; we returned to the US when I was 3 1/2 years old. We didn’t even get to keep the accents! It’s a shame, that, because it really works wonders in the States.
Speaking of greetings, here is another one: “Hi there!” Despite almost never using this phrase when I lived amongst my own people in America, I have suddenly found myself clinging to it like Rose to that frozen door in Titanic when I make phone calls here. Maybe it’s because it immediately and profoundly declares me American, so people can prepare their brains for translating my pronunciation of words. Maybe it’s a hokey inflection I somehow picked up (and an unwelcome one, too). It’s the verbal equivalent of patting a teenager, who thinks she’s an adult, on the head like a child. Yet I cannot give it up. “Hello” is too solitary a greeting as one word, and when I say it to Brits, I tend to say it with a slight English inflection that I then never repeat, which I am sure confuses them. “Hey” and “Hi” are obviously too casual, and “Hello there” makes me feel like I’m desperately trying to get back to the 1950’s and the only person who can help me is this poor soul I’ve trapped on the phone. In practice, this means I often bumble awkwardly through my greeting (“Yes, oh, hi, yes, so…”) and get right to the point, albeit with a few pauses where I think about how to say things in a way in which they are most likely to be understood over a less than stellar phone connection. My diction has become fabulous.
An oft-used casual greeting by British store clerks et al is: “Alright?” This one still throws me for a loop, and I end up saying, “Um, yes thank you.” Or, “I am, are you?” I know the correct response should be to repeat “Alright” back to them, but it sounds so wrong coming off my tongue, in my accent, that I just smile, nod, and filibuster my way out of it and to the matter at hand with a very obvious look that says, “I accept your lingo and now let’s focus on my exceedingly normal desire to buy these 10 bags of garlic pita chips, please.”
Not that I need to defend myself, but England is suspiciously devoid of pita chips, so when I do see them, I buy them. All of them. (They call pita “pitta”, but do not be fooled. Just follow the pitta-patter of your stomach right to the chips/crisps aisle.)
And now we’ve come to a less fraught topic: farewells. Goodbye for now!
Cheers Best You know what? I don’t need a sign-off.