Travel: The Dialects of Manchester

Originally published in The Manchester Evening News in summer 1998.  Note:  I’ve visited Manchester several times, and on this particular visit I was struck by the colourful dialect of the city and penned a little article describing the differences I observed between Canada and the UK.   To my immense surprise, it was accepted and published in the Manchester Evening News under the odd headline “You do say some funny things”.  They even popped by to take my photograph.  🙂  In retrospect I find the article extremely silly. 

To Canadians, England is emblemised by cricket, cups of tea and John Cleese.  Our view of Manchester is even narrower – football and Frasier’s Daphne Moon.  Many Mancunians seem to have mentally reduced all of Canada’s vast 12 regions to one symbol – snow.  The truth is that many parts of Canada, including most of Ontario, where I am from, are warm and green for six months a year.  Your weather, however, is identical each day.

Here are a few entries from my Manchester meteorological journal…Monday:  Grey with a touch of rain.  Generally rotten.  Tuesday:  Grey with a touch of rain.  Generally rotten.  Thursday:  Grey with a 46-second patch of sunshine.  Still rotten.

A more common and disturbing myth is that Canada is a glorified extension of the United States.  This may be true in terms of foreign policy, but we are not Americans.

The most noticeable difference I have perceived between Canadians and the English is speech.  So, you Mancunians, never go into a Canadian restaurant and request a “buttie”.  You will be the recipient of at best a stifled giggle and at worst a slap in the face.  We eat sandwiches, but they do not contain some poor chap’s bottom.

While you visit “loos” and “toilets”, we visit “washrooms” and “ladies’ or men’s rooms”.  Chippies do not exist in Canada, and if you happen to mistake a McDonald’s for one, a request for “mushy peas” will be met with raised eyebrows and only minimal tolerance.  Peas only become “mushy” if they are rotten (“gone off”), in which case they are speedily discarded.  We don’t have “petrol” – only “gas,” which costs 22p per litre.  (Edit:  NOT ANY  MORE!!)

You British men call your fellow males “mate” and women “luv”.  We call men “buddy” and let women alone for fear of harassment lawsuits.  While your chemists peddle aspirin, ours have PhDs and synthesize a superior painkiller.  Our “sod” is healthy soil, but yours is a milder member of your collection of interesting oaths.

We scoff at your “flats”, which to us are either low-heeled shoes or cases of decarbonated Coca-cola, but to you are apartment units.  A “cheerio” is to you a goodbye, but to us a rather insubstantial breakfst.

Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion, Amanda Marshall, Bryan Adams, the Barenaked Ladies, Corey Hart, two members of All Saints, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Plummer, Norman Jewison, Sarah MacLachlan, Margaret Atwood, Matthew Perry (the Friends guy, Chandler), Shania Twain and Bill Maher are all Canadians.

So are the Philosopher Kings (Edit:  What a great band!), a Torontonian band whom, to my surprise, I discovered most of you had never heard of.  But then, many of you reacted with equal incredulity when you discovered that I and most Canadians have never heard of M People or Billie.

British TV programmes are popular in Canada.  Many of us watch Chef, Coronation Street, Keeping up Appearances and Monty Python re-runs (“repeats”).  Oft-repeated miniseries include Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, The Thin Blue Line, Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson is a cult hero), and Father Ted.

Ice hockey is our king of sports, followed closely by lacrosse (Edit:  What was I thinking?).  Our “football” (what you call “American football”) is played by steroid-gorged men in tights.  Soccer games are shown regularly on our TV sets – precisely once every four years, the World Cup!  Instead, we play baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, and basketball, which was invented by a Canadian, somewhere in between.

Nonetheless, it must be admitted that our enthusiasm for these sports does not match or even mildly resemble your raw passion for soccer.  Thirty thousand fans would never leave Toronto en masse to watch a single hockey game in a foreign country.

Even stranger to me is your intense regional loyalty.  It was a source of great amusement to find Liverpudlians and Geordies cheering for Bayern Munich at the European Cup.

The names Beckham, Cole and Yorke are foreign to most of us.  Our teenage boys instead worship Michael Jordan (basketball) and Mark McGwuire (baseball), both of whom are American.  Incidentally, cricket is for sissies (“jessies”).

Despite your strange customs (afternoon tea, milk bottle delivery and Harry Ramsden’s) (Edit:  I think none of these exist any more), strange quirks and strange foreign tongue, you Mancunians seem a friendly lot.

You have tolerated my propensity to vigorously enunciate my “r” American-style, to ridicule the barbaric piling of carcasses you call “rugby” and to question the medical value of a Boddingtons each evening.  I salute you.  Cheerio!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *