In preparation for moving to Grand Cayman, I gave much more thought to the Caribbean lifestyle than I did the island’s British influence. Of course, I fully anticipated the change to driving on the left side of the road. I even pondered for a moment if I would become an advocate for tea rather than coffee. One thing I never imagined was the sheer amount of British words and expressions I would encounter while living here. Given my interest in all things language, I’m very happy to welcome in new variations to my vocabulary. But even so, I’ve had to laugh at many of the words I’ve learned here thanks to the island’s UK expat population. Without further ado, here are 21 British words and expressions that I have learned in the Cayman Islands.
What used to be exclusively a farmer’s get-up has somehow evolved into a cute outfit for women and girls. Next time you see a Brit in overalls be sure to say, “Hey, LOVE your dungarees!!”
#2 You alright?
USA: Hello, how are you?
In my first few weeks of teaching in Cayman, I could not for the life of me figure out why the teachers kept asking me if I was “alright?” I’m thinking…do I look stressed? Is there something wrong with my face? YES, I’M FINE. STOP ASKING. Here, I come to find that this is just the UK’s version of a casual greeting. Honestly, I’m a bit relieved.
#3 Are you keen?
USA: Would you be interested? / Are you up for it?
This expression stuck out right away when I moved to Cayman. If you are being invited to any kind of social outing someone will most definitely ask you if you’re “keen” to join. A sound response would be “Yes, I’m keen.” I actually think this phrase is quite useful. I find myself sprinkling it everywhere like fairy dust.
To a Brit, EVERYTHING is lovely. They had a lovely time, they met a lovely person, they think the weather is lovely, the food is lovely…it’s ALL lovely! And wouldn’t you know it, I describe everything as lovely now too. Send help.
#5 Do you fancy…?
USA: Would you like…?
How can you say no to something if the offer starts with “Do you fancy?” It makes everything sounds twice as attractive. Do you fancy a cup of tea? HELL yes, I fancy a cup of tea.
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Recently, I was at a gathering in which one of the English guests brought along a “pudding.” Me, the naïve American, was thinking this person has brought along some chocolate snack packs à la elementary cold lunch. I was actually excited. Then, to my dismay, they go to get the “pudding” and come back with what I would describe as a giant swiss roll. I simply couldn’t accept it.
The other day some friends were discussing supplies that would be needed for a star-gazing excursion. Someone mentioned “torches” as an essential supply. I thought, dang these people are serious star-gazers. They’re going to light a torch like a regular Indiana Jones headed into the Temple of Doom. Alas, the British “torch” is just a regular old flashlight. And here I was ready for an adventure.
The word “plaster” in the US will stir up images of broken arms in casts or even the clay-like building material you’d pick up at Home Depot. Not a single American will ever picture a small bandage used for cuts and scrapes. Nonetheless, you may here a Brit use this word when visiting the “Chemist’s Shop,” AKA the pharmacy. How will I ever keep up??
#9 Petrol Station
USA: Gas Station
Even their fuel sounds uppity.
USA: Sly? Subtly rude? Honestly, this one doesn’t translate well.
I love cheeky. Now that we’ve been introduced, I don’t believe we will ever part ways. This adjective has the ability to describe people, their actions, and their attitudes in one succinct and perfect word. Whether it be a cheeky comment, a cheeky grin, or a cheeky blog post, you’ll get an immediate impression of what’s being described.
#11 Pardon me?
USA: What did you say? Or straight up ‘huh?”
Not going to lie, the first time one of my 6 year old students said “Pardon me?” it freaked me out a little. Like, who are you? Benjamin Button?
#12 Boot & Bonnet
USA: Trunk & Hood (of a car)
When has a vehicle ever sounded cuter?
USA: Busy, Crammed
When I was on the Cayman job hunt back in 2019, I was corresponding with a school principal via email. In attempting to find a time in his schedule for an interview, he described the school week as “chockablock.” I read this sentence about 10 times and was completely stumped. I actually Googled chockablock because I thought for sure it was a holiday or some kind of school celebration. Soon, I discovered this word to mean “crammed full of people or things.” Albeit useful, this word is a bit too obscure for my fancy. 😉
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#14 The Letter Zed
USA: The letter ‘Z’
Whenever I hear someone from the UK (or Australia) say Zed, it always reminds me of a person’s name. Zed to me is an electric guitar player with a blonde afro riding a long board. To be clear, I don’t actually know such a person but if he existed his name would be Zed.
In the US, if you have any grassy space around your house, you call that the yard, NOT the garden. For us, a garden has flowers or vegetables and is created quite deliberately with much effort. My question is, if the Brits are calling their yards gardens, what do they call garden gardens?
An American mom on island wrote in to tell me that her toddler was coming home from school referring to his diapers as nappies. I don’t have a child but I feel this would be a most unsettling moment for me. I would turn to them them and say, “you’re one of them now, aren’t you?”
USA: No equivalent
This is not so much a word or expression as it is a cultural phenomenon. Waitrose is an apparently high end grocery store in the UK. Their products are shipped to Cayman and sold at Fosters, a major supermarket on island. UK expats are absolutely obsessed with Waitrose products. Read below some of the posts I have come across in the Real Women of Cayman which accurately illustrate the Waitrose mania here on island.
“Anybody know if BA will be bringing Waitrose in this trip?”
“Did any Waitrose stuff come in with the vaccines the other day?”
“Lots of Waitrose stuff is in Fosters today, including BACON AND SAUSAGES!!”
I am trying to think of a US equivalent to the notorious Waitrose hype and truthfully I cannot. I get pretty excited about Whole Foods but that’s because I love their salad bar.
With Cayman being so hot all of the time, there really isn’t too much talk of “jumpers” around here. Once though, a friend said she sometimes likes to wear a jumper around the apartment when the AC is on. I’m thinking…a jumper? Like a jumpsuit? I mean, those are cute and all but why specifically when the AC is on?
USA: (n) fool’s errand (v) goof off /dilly-dally
The definition of faff that I found lexico.com is enough to make anyone giggle. Faff as a noun means “a great deal of ineffectual activity.” You can also use it as a verb to say someone is spending time ineffectually. For example, you can say “stop faffing around,” or “the DVDL in Cayman is a faff.” I think we all have something we are ready to label as “faff.”
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Just sounds funny.
USA: No equivalent
Any American who grew up with Harry Potter absolutely loves this British slang word. Ron was always saying “bloody hell this” and “bloody hell that.” It became the new cool thing to say on the playground at recess. Now whenever I hear it used it by a real English person in the flesh, I can’t help but smirk, reminiscing on my Sorcerer’s Stone days.
Well friends, there you have it. 21 British words and expressions to add to your repertoire. Although I enjoy poking a bit of fun at the Brits, I honestly love learning new language tidbits. I can also acknowledge that the USA has plenty of words and expressions that would make zero sense in other parts of the world. Check out 30 American Sayings That Surprise The Rest of the World or 30 American Sayings That Leave Foreigners Totally Puzzled to read up on some examples! Thanks for reading this lovely little post. I hope you all have a bloody good day 🙂
Hi, I’m Kate! I’m a Wisconsin native who traded her snow boots for flip-flops in May of 2020 when I packed my whole life into two suitcases and moved to the Cayman Islands with my partner, Bryan. I created Island Diaries as a way to document my island adventures and share about the Cayman lifestyle. A Midwest girl at heart, I bring a fresh perspective to Caribbean life, serving as a guide for locals and tourists alike on all things Cayman Islands. Whether you are local to Cayman, planning to visit, or just curious about island life, I invite you to explore Island Diaries and let this site guide you on your next island adventure!
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