5 changes of a Chinese wife in England: on Language

English is such a fascinating language. It’s common that people do not always say what they mean, or do not mean what they say. Below is a list of 5 things that I’ve learnt:

1) A Cream Tea is not a cup of tea with cream

On our honeymoon in Jersey back in 1999, my husband asked if I fancied some Cream Tea. I said yes as I was thirsty after a long walk.

He later gave me a plate with a fat, boring looking bun (I later learnt it was called a scone) with jam and cream next to it. I sat and waited patiently for my tea. “Where’s my tea?”  I asked. Hugh pointed at the fat, boring looking bun and said ‘You said you wanted some Cream Tea.’

Cream Tea means a scone.

2) There’s something called a Tea Towel

A Tea Towel is a piece of cloth you use to dry dishes and cutlery. Why is it called a Tea Towel? I’m wondering if ‘tea’ means a drink or a meal?

I’ve also learnt that the tea towel is a minor British Institution.

3) What is lunch, tea and dinner really? 

I was appalled when my son’s school referred to a mid-day meal as ‘School Dinner’. I learnt English abroad, and I’ve always thought a meal eaten at noon is normally called lunch.

To complicate my lunch/dinner confusion, when Ben’s friends invited him round to play and have ‘tea’, they meant an evening meal eaten at around 5pm.

4) You go to the Loo to Spend a Penny

One of the first British English words I picked up was the ‘loo’ — toilet. My female friends sometimes like to add a bit of mystery to the toilet business, they ‘spend a penny’. Not more; not less. Just a penny.

I learnt that coin-operated public toilets were introduced in London more than 150 years ago.

These days, if you go to the Waterloo train station, to use the public toilets, it costs 30p — but my friend still only ‘spends a penny’.

5) What happens if you give someone an inch?

In Chinese, there is a saying that ‘if you give someone an inch, he will take a FOOT.

But in English, if you give someone an inch, he will take a MILE.

Which one do you think is more logical, mathematically?

What is your view of my mini series about a Chinese wife in England so far?

What fascinates you? What else do you want to read? Please leave a comment and let me know.

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23 thoughts on “5 changes of a Chinese wife in England: on Language

  1. rhmay

    And in America if you wish to spend a penny you can say “I’m going for a rest”, because a toilet is a rest room. And if you smoke a fag you shoot a homosexual. More like this please.

    Reply
  2. Colline

    Now to make things even more confusing – the English spoken in another country will not have these expressions. Instead they use expressions that are indigenous to that particular country 🙂

    Reply
    1. Janet Williams Post author

      That can be tough! I realise that when I speak English in Singapore on holiday, for example, I spoke it differently — more direct speech and fewer nuances. I don’t only have to adjust my vocabulary, I adjust my style and register all together.

      Reply
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  19. e

    A cream tea isn’t just the scone. It’s the whole thing, usually a small mid-afternoon meal with scones, jam, and cream. They’re a bit touristy, mostly found in fancy hotels these days.

    Reply

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