Europe, Life, London, Moving to the UK

Lost in Translation: An Aussie’s Guide to Overcoming the Language Barrier in the UK

The differences between British English and American English are well known, but before I moved to the UK I figured that there would not be much difference between British and Australian English. While this is mostly true, there are some subtle differences that definitely tripped me up a few times! If you’re new to the UK hopefully this guide will stop you making the same mistakes as me.

Pants

Underwear is referred to as pants in the UK. As someone who opts to wear skirts or dresses over jeans most days, making a perfectly innocent comment about not wearing pants will raise some eyebrows amongst the Brits who will think you’re talking about underwear. What we Aussies call pants are known as trousers in the UK, or bottoms in some cases (eg tracksuit bottoms).

Aubergine, Courgette and Peppers

Did you know Brits have different names for some vegetables? I certainly didn’t and this led to some confusion when ordering food at restaurants. I once ordered a chicken dish “served with peppers” on the assumption it meant black pepper and was a bit surprised when they brought out capsicum. A friend of mine once ordered courgette fries expecting some form of potato fries but out came fried zucchini. I also had to have a friend explain that aubergine is eggplant after it was brought up in conversation and I didn’t have a clue what people were talking about.

Flip Flops

This is probably an obvious one. In the UK thongs are known as flip flops and they think thongs = G-strings. I’ve confused people a couple of times with this.

Plasters

I once asked a colleague if we had any Band Aids in the office first aid kit. It took her a second to realise that what I was asking for was a plaster.

Baps and Buttys

You may see the word bap pop up on breakfast menus in the UK (eg bacon bap). A bap is just a soft bread roll. Similarly, a chip sandwich is often called a chip butty in the UK. According to Wikipedia the word butty is a contraction of “bread and butter”.

“You alright?”

In Australia if someone asked me if I was alright it would probably be because I looked really upset or sick, that they could see something was wrong. In the UK though, when people say “You alright?” its their way of saying hello/how are you?. This is something that would confuse me so much and even know I’m still not entirely sure how to respond.

Here are a few more quick translations you may find useful:

  • Buggy (translation: stroller/pram)
  • Duvet (translation: quilt)
  • Crisps (translation: a packet of chips)
  • Ice lollies (translation: ice blocks)
  • Hoover (translation: vacuum cleaner / to vacuum)
  • Dungarees (translation: denim overalls)
  • Cantaloupe (translation: rockmelon)

Let me know if you’ve come across any other British words or phrases that have tripped you up.

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam . Head on over to any of these blogs to join in the fun!

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Comments

  • Kelly Michelle

    Pants!! I told someone I had worn the same pants for three days in a row (but meant my trousers as hadn’t had any time to wash my clothes) and got given such a look of disgust – took me a few moments to realise my mistake!

    Kiwis say lollies but the Brits think I’m talking about Ice Blocks; oh the confusion…

    Thanks for joining the travel link up Stacey x

    • Haha, I forgot about that one! We call them lollies in Australia as well but I think over here they call them sweeties? I’ll have to add that one to the list!

  • Id forgotten about thongs! Ive been tripped up on that one too. Great guide, wish i’d seen it before i came over.

    • Yes, it definitely would have been helpful for me to know some of these a few years ago!

  • Lol! I’m loving hearing about all these differences!
    Lots of love,
    Angie

    • There are probably loads more I’ve not thought of and I discover new ones all the time. I only recently learned about cantaloupes when I mentioned rockmelon to my British boyfriend and he had no idea what I was talking about

  • Never get your trousers dirty in London and walk into work saying ‘Darn I’ve got dirty pants’! Also stuff like ‘Cooler Box’ = ‘Chilli Bin’ in Kiwi, ‘Flip Flops’ = ‘Jandals’, Also stockings seem to mean suspenders. It’s amazing how big the list can get!

    • I have never heard of it being called a ‘Chilli Bin’! In Australia we call it an ‘Esky’, which is actually the name of a particular brand of cooler.

  • My Australian work mate was talking about how dirty his ‘thongs’ were the other day, and I was so relieved when I finally discovered he was referring to flip flops!!

    Polly xx
    Follow Your Sunshine

  • Amazing isn’t it, it’s only been a 100 years or so since they came to our fair countries!

    • Yeah, its crazy how we evolve so differently! I really feel sorry for anyone who has to learn English as a second language, it must be so confusing with different countries having their own flavour of English.

  • JustGoPlaces

    Interesting! Some of the Aussie words are American English too (e.g. pants, vacuum) but there are other words I’ve never heard of (rock melon). I wonder how English words got so mixed up in different countries around the world.

    • Australia’s culture is heavily influenced by both Britain and the US, so I guess we pick up different parts of each. Although I’m not sure where we came up with words like rockmelon that seem to only be known to Aussies and Kiwis.

  • I love all the differences that a common language still brings and know some of these! I often travel to the US with work and no one ever seems to understand me – what with the fast speaking and all the colloquial phrases it is all too easy to assume are globally understood!

    • It wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I realised so many of the things I say are uniquely Australian. I just kind of assumed that everyone used the same phrases!

  • Krista

    I still remember the first time one of my British colleagues asked my new American colleague “You alright?” She was so confused and started looking around to see if she had something on herself and patting her head to see if there was something wrong with her hair. Me, the other American, had to step in and translate that he was just saying “How are you??” LOL.

    • I can definitely relate to this! That question makes me feel self conscious every time haha

  • Haha, I had so many issues with this when I moved from the UK to Australia when I was 16. We were looking at schools, and even though we were in Perth (so everything is close by as it’s so small), we looked at an all-girls boarding school. When they said that all the girls have to wear thongs in the showers, I was absolutely horrified! Then my aunty explained that thongs are flip flops!

    C x
    Lux Life

    • lol! That situation could have been very awkward!

  • Just read this and laughed at your list – I am an Australian who lived in the UK for a few years and married a Scot – we had had a few conversations where we didn’t understand each other – I found it odd that Scots say they ‘stay’ at a certain address rather than ‘live’ there. Telling colleagues my sister lost a thong while climbing a cliff resulted in awkward silences. And I love some of the sayings such as meet you at back of 5 which is scotland means any time after 5