I’m Sorry, What?

So I decided to write another top ten this time a bit more related to my job. Throughout my years living in England I’ve learned a lot of new words and expressions that British people use as opposed to American people.

As most foreigners I was mostly exposed to US English, be it through movies, TV series or music, and was extremely comfortable with it. But that did not prepare me in the least for what was to come.

So here are ten words that I didn’t quite know about when I moved to the UK.

1. Cheers

This is probably something people know by now, but I didn’t. Here in the UK a lot of people use this not only when you are clinking pints together in a pub, but also instead of “thank you”.

The first time I noticed this was when I first got the bus to university and noticed people were thanking the bus driver (which was already surprising to me, we don’t really do that in Portugal) not with a “thanks” but with a “cheers”.

Don’t worry, they still say thank you!

2. Fag

Calm down, I don’t mean it as it is used in the US! I was as surprised as you were when I heard it!

I was at the pub with a group of people I didn’t really know when one of them got up saying “I’m going out for a fag” and left. I turned around, eyes wide, waiting for some sort of comment but nothing happened. I tried to figure it out in my head: does it mean he’s going out looking for a man?

I finally got the courage to ask: a fag? I was answered with the usual laughter and “poor foreigner” looks. Turns out a fag is a cigarette.

3. The Loo

Yes, I was as puzzled as you! It’s such a funny word!

The story behind this was that I was at the pub (yes, we hung out a lot at the pub) and someone asked:

– Where’s the loo?

– The what?

– The loo.

– The what?

– The toilet.

– Ah.

And that’s how I learned this word. They also say loo roll instead of toilet paper.

4. Chips or crisps?

Now this is where US English can really mess your head up when you want to sound British. I often say the wrong thing because I’m so used to hearing people say chips on TV.

So, to make things clear I’ll contrast potatoes between the two countries.

In the US:
– French fries are the ones from McDonald’s, for example. Thin and deep-fried.
– Chips are the ones that you usually buy as snacks from the supermarket, like Lay’s (or Walkers, as they’re called here in the UK).

In the UK:
– Fries are the same.
– Chips are baked instead of fried, are thick and sometimes have the skins on.
– Crisps are what they call Lay’s (Walkers).

5. Cookies or biscuits?
I found that, unlike Portuguese where you can usually use one word for every kind of cookie, in the UK that’s not the case. They are very particular as to what you call cookies, so here’s a guide:

– Cookies: are the round ones with chocolate bits in them.

– Biscuits: are sweet and you usually have them with tea.

– Shortbread biscuits: are thick and crumble easily. You can actually describe their level of crumble by using the adjective “short”. If it’s very short it’s very crumbly.

– Digestives: are kind of sweet and were originally sold to aid digestion. They are the most popular kind of biscuit in the UK and are eaten with tea (most people dunk them in the tea). You’ll usually find them with a chocolate coat on one side.

– Crackers: are savoury and dry.

6. Cashpoint

Fairly easy to understand what it is, but it might confuse you or your friends when you’re so used to saying ATM.

7. Quid

Sticking to the money theme, you’ll find that here people don’t just say pounds and pence. Here’s some money terms you are sure to hear if you’re in the UK:

– Quid: used instead of pound. And it has no plural: 1 quid, 5 quid / 1 pound, 5 pounds. First time I heard this I thought they were saying “squid”! Don’t make the same mistake.

– P.: instead of pence. More common than quid. 50p – fifty pee.

– Fiver: another way of saying 5 pounds.

– Tenner: another way of saying 10 pounds.

8. Cab

Instead of taxi people use cab. They also use lorry instead of truck.

9. Flat

It’s flat, not apartment! Of course, people will still understand you. The word is still used but usually people say flat. And if you live with other people, they are your flatmates.

10. Trousers

In the UK they say trousers instead of pants. Pants over here is used for men’s underwear. Also, they say undies instead of panties for women’s underwear. And yes, people laughed the first time I said pants instead of trousers.

So these are the 10 words that I first learned when I came to the UK. I hope this post will prevent you from being mocked as much as I was when I first arrived here – don’t worry, all mocking was friendly – or at least reduce the number of times you have to say “I’m sorry, what?”. I had to repeat that a lot.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have been translating all my posts into Portuguese (which is the reason for delayed posts). So if you speak the language feel free to click the “Em Português” button on the top right of the page.

Until next time,



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