One thing I love about living in London is being in the dense heart of a cosmopolitan city. I have never heard so many languages and tongues and for me it feels like accent heaven!
When we arrived in London a year ago, the tube journey to our friends’ flat in south east London took on epic proportions, as we crashed into the fabulous London quirk: “planned engineering works”. They usually take place at weekends. We arrived in London on a Saturday.
We completed the long distance walk at Green Park to change from the Piccadilly line, and as we arrived at the platform we hoped to leave from, we were met by some equally dismayed tube travellers who greeted us with this news: “Thayr IzzNorJublyLineTawday.” Flip, the Jubilee Line was down as well …
If London is a melting pot of all international cultures and nationalities, then London public transport is the baking tray. Everything comes together, the accents merge with one another, and it all just works. Somehow. Either we all understand each other. Or not at all. But it doesn’t really matter. No-one is really listening anyway.
Sometimes I hear two people talking, or hear someone speaking on their mobile phone, and I am surprised by how unusual the words sound. Languages fascinate me. Almost as much as accents. So then I try to listen harder, to identify the language – or not – and often I realise I am listening to English! The giveaway words, in the area of London where we live, are usually an abundance of “yeah”, “mate” or “bruv”, mixed with a truckload of “innit”. But you often have to listen hard to recognise them!
Equally, I have said things which no-one understands. Like, “You all set?” “Sorry?” “All set?” “No, I’m not really fit.” “Not fit; set.” “Sorry, I have no idea what you’re saying. It must be your accent.” And, venturing into central London, we asked a windowcleaner if he knew where New Broad Street was. After about a dozen exchanges of “Wo’?”, he eventually said, “Oh, you mean noo Braw Stree’?” Exactly.
And I love what I have come to learn are typical greetings. Apart from “cheersmateniceone” and, if you live in the north, “eyup”, my favourite one in London is: “Hiyalrigh’ma’e?” To which I could answer, “Hiya.” or “Yes, fine thanks, yourself?” or “Yeah, I’m all right, thanks. Are you all right?” or I could just nod.
I have heard more languages than I know countries, and more accents than I could ever hope to mimic. I have heard Asian people speak with cockney accents, and a Japanese man speak Spanish. I have been served by a kilt-wearing South African barman in a small pub in the heart of Scotland, and had an Australian waitress put me off tasting haggis in a traditional Scottish restaurant. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions whether I’m from Australia or New Zealand, and I’ve had wildly head-nodding conversations with strangers on the bus who have no clue what I’m saying, and nor I them.
When life is so busy, it’s best to cram as many words as you can into one. Or you can just nod. No-one’s looking anyway.