So here’s the thing about travel. It’s complicated. First there’s the security line with all of its rules and the decisions you have to make. Do I take my shoes off or don’t I? Should I throw out my water or drink it, a decision I may later regret should the seat belt light stay on too long after take-off. Was it a 1 litre bag or a bag of 1 litre bottles that I’m allowed? Should I opt for the machine or the pat down? Once you get through all of that there’s the airport signage to decipher and the total recall you’ll need to try to remember whether your gate was B39 or D93 which, given the long and opposing corridors in many terminals, could significantly impact your chances of making it onto your plane.
Now as a shallow person I do my best to live my life in a way that is as uncomplicated as possible. For that reason I have a distinct preference, once I make my way through all of the previously mentioned chaos, to disembark at a location where I am able to understand what is being said. And while I can read, write and say “the house is near the garden” in Hebrew, I’m not sure that qualifies as a second language. As a result, I am most comfortable in my native English. Which, imho, made my recent foray to London a particularly good choice. At least I thought it did.
Let me start by saying that having grown up during the “British Invasion” (no, not the 1812 one) I was aware that I would find some discrepancies in the meanings of words between my homeland and the Mother country. Face it, how many times did one have to hear Mr. McCartney refer to his “blokes” before realizing he was talking about the gentlemen standing beside him. And it’s pretty common knowledge that a “lift” is something that elevates you and a “brolly” is used for protection from the rain. Of course it didn’t take me too long to figure out that at the end of every meal when I politely inquired as to the location of the “washroom”, there was a reason for the funny look I got as the server wondered why it was that I wanted to bathe before going home. And I will admit the use of “toilet”, in this case, is much more direct and to the point. I can’t say however, that I was always prepared for the challenges I faced as I encountered a rather heretofore unfamiliar version of the language I speak each and every day in my home and native land.
Now don’t get me wrong. Some of the local banter is rather intuitive. I mean I get why they call their subway the “tube” because the little round cars that you can barely stand up in live up to the name. And it doesn’t take much to understand why the “lady” on the loudspeaker repeatedly reminds you to “mind the gap” since if you don’t, you’ll find yourself removing the wheels of your luggage from the rather significant space that exists between the train and the platform in the 10 or so seconds you have to exit your car. “Take out” and “take away” mean pretty much the same on either side of the pond although the latter seems infinitely more popular than the former. The same can be said about walking on a “footpath” because you’ll actually think you’re on a “sidewalk” even if one sounds slightly more “paved” than the other.
Smooth sailing? A cakewalk? Think you’ve got this carpet beat? Well hold on ‘cause the ride’s not over. It’s not all peaches and cream and at times it gets downright confusing. So you’re at the theatre and you feel like a little popcorn. You ask for the “concessions” and a nice young man lets you know that senior’s tickets are available at a discount through the wicket. Which I suppose is the true meaning of the word. Then there’s the time you want “fries” and have to ask for “chips” or you want “chips” have to ask for “crisps”. But I was particularly flummoxed by the tendency to make less more by turning “Yield” into “Give Way” and “Detour” into “Diverted Traffic”, which seems slightly more complicated not to mention the resultant need for larger signs. But all of this pales to what you might face when you want to eat. So listen carefully.
When confronted with “bubble and squeak” on a breakfast menu all I can say is “Don’t order it! Just don’t order it!” because it has nothing to do with either of those things. Which brings me to a little tidbit I would like to share with you should you decide to venture into a land where you have little experience with the spoken word. This is important. If you learn nothing else before you go, learn to say “chicken” in whatever language(s) you think you may encounter. Here’s why. One evening you may find yourself comfortably seated in a four star restaurant and upon carefully perusing the menu settle upon something called “rognons de veau et champignons à la sauce moutarde” because you remember a little of your high school french but clearly not enough. When it arrives at your table a very polite server looks directly at you and says “the kidney is for you madam?”. Your look of astonishment will tell the tale but, even so, the lovely woman from Miami sitting at the next table won’t be able to stop herself from proclaiming “I wondered if that was what you really wanted”. To which you reply (but only in your head) “Well if you knew, why didn’t you open up your mouth and say something when it mattered?!” all the while wishing you had stuck with the chicken. Perhaps however, that’s a story for another day.