Before coming to London, I researched the city diligently. Through film, books, and Reddit threads, I hoped to sidestep the embarrassment of being new to the city. Armed with my knowledge, I stood on the right side of the Tube escalator, sped up my walking pace, and patented a quasi-discreet camera angle to capture tourist sites ( which according to my friends wasn’t very discreet at all, just a little silly). I thought myself undetectable as a foreigner, at least until I opened my mouth.
Still, there are things that Sliding Doors (2002) and r/London hadn’t forewarned me about, for example, certain linguistic quirks I hadn’t picked up on. One example is the proliferation of the phrase “You alright, love?” After three weeks of feeling looked after by strangers on the street, I had a British professor break the illusion. She informed the class that Englanders use “You alright?’ to mean any manner of sentiments including but not limited to: “Hello”, “How are you?”, “What are you doing?”, “You need to leave”, etc. The secret, she said, lies with the tone. Luckily, all my encounters with the question had been friendly at best, neutral at worst. Still, it amuses me how impressed I’d been with what I assumed to be a culture-wide valuation of others’ well-being. Now when I hear those fateful words, my ears perk up, eager to discern some previously missed nuance.