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Graciela Graciela | 16:23 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

Do you know when an old song keeps echoing inside your head? "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is as old as it is witty and it has frequently popped up in mine. You should check it out on YouTube. Noel Coward goes on singing: "Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to, Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one." And he goes on about British eccentricity.

The British are indeed eccentric, endearingly so, and they know that. I am Brazilian and have been living in London for a few years by now but you know what? I have to admit that some habits of the British still puzzle me. If someone steps on your foot accidentally, they say sorry but you are expected to say sorry too even if you are howling in pain.

And some of the language that I think I understand... well, I know the meaning of the words but I wonder if I really understand the sense. And then, there is the biggest mystery of all for many of us who weren't born in a Commonwealth country: cricket! They look very smart on the pitch but I don't get what is going on.

cricket match

Two teams are playing but... which is which?

Some of my colleagues in the international team that makes up the Learning English department feel the same way about it - Chinese, Russian and Indonesian. And our British colleagues are always happy to enlighten us. They also find themselves a bit confused by us.

I slip into Brazilian-mode sometimes and literally translate some Portuguese idioms into English. You should see their faces when I say: "I have a pineapple to peel". They look around and guess what? There is no fruit in sight. This in Portuguese refers to a difficult task. I think you agree that it is quite awkward to peel a pineapple. The right idiom in English is "a hard nut to crack".

So we decided to start blogging about the things we find quirky about the British and our British colleagues will try to explain to us what it is all about. They are free to say what they do not understand about us too.

I will start blogging with Neil. He is English and loves cricket and I will tell him soon what I find strange about the sport. For the next few weeks I will also share a secret with you. I have learnt how to tell when a typical British person is really angry to the point where you should just give up on a discussion. I will check with Neil if I got it right.

How about you, what puzzles you about the British?


witty - quick and funny

popped up - appears suddenly and unexpectedly

wouldn't dare - would not have the courage to

endearingly - creating affection

puzzle - confuse

howling - making a loud sound expressing pain

I don't get - I am unable to understand

makes up - forms

to enlighten - to make someone understand

slip into - pass gradually without noticing

in sight - visible

awkward - difficult

a hard nut to crack - English idiom used to refer to a difficult problem to solve

quirky - unconventional


  • Comment number 1.

    What i'm really puzzled by is a cockney accent. When someone talks this way I understand just about 30% of what was said

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Graciela Nice to meet you . I 'm down to earth when it comes to cricket , but I'm sure if we learn the rules we will like them . Thanks for the great Blog . Looking forward for you and Neil next Blogs . Your plan sounds so helpful and astonishing !
    have a nice day
    Pary from Iran

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Graciela,
    Let me share what puzzled me about the British when I first visited the UK: Whereas I understood the UK to be part of Europe (speaking of geography, not necessarily of politics - neither the UK, nor Austria were part of the European Union back then), the same as Austria or Spain or Sweden, the British always differentiated between their own country on the one hand and "Europe" on the other hand; Europe meaning invariably "the others". I wonder if this attitude has changed now that the UK has been part of the European Union for quite some time...
    All the best,
    Elisabeth from Austria

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Graciela,
    Its really nice to read your article. As i currently live in Australia and belongs to Banladesh, sometimes i also puzzle by the Australian idioms. It happened that i missed the jokes because i was not familiar with the contents of the jokes. In my opinion, its a matter of time to get used to with different idioms used by native people. One more point, as i mentioned i am from Bangladesh, and the Bangladeshi are more crazy for cricket indeed.
    All the best..


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