The Queen’s English

Photo by Suserl just me from FreeImages

Halloween, at least the American version, has jumped the pond. People put a lit Jack-O-Lantern on their porch and hand out candy to those dressed in costumes. Only they don’t dress in “costumes.” They call it “fancy dress.” We noticed this a couple of weeks ago on an outing. We passed a pub with sandwich board advertising a Halloween Party and “wear your fancy dress.” I had seen other signs on thrift stores for “fancy dress” and wondered if they sold prom dresses or cocktail wear? Which then made me wonder how often the common British folk were required to wear “fancy dress,” and should I start to worry if we ever were invited somewhere. The sandwich board regaling “fancy dress” in the same sentence as Halloween put my anxiety regarding dress code requirements to dinner parties at rest.

Translation: Fancy dress simply means, “come in a costume.”

However, this led to an interesting exchange in our house several days later, and I thought I might use this opportunity to practice dialogue. My day job is a math teacher (maths teacher in the UK) but I like to write. Someday, I may even publish a second novel (I have started it…about 37 times. And finished it…twice. Stay tuned.)

Here is one more example that the citizens of Great Britain speak a different English…

David is gone for three days. It may not sound like a big deal, but he is the one who has kept the rest of us alive. Grocery shopping, meal planning, dinner execution. Literally, keeping us alive. It’s a job I’ve done before. A point the two of us have discussed recently with great overtones of irony. But, one cannot subsist on irony, so, I tie on the apron, and get to work. Dinner for us girls. I haven’t had to focus on work for the past week so I have time to visit the store, and plan a meal. Sausage and butternut squash risotto. The recipe called for red wine. Sold.

I’ve missed the creative outlet of cooking. Not that I’m ready to take over the task of keeping us all alive. I am probably enjoying it because it’s not something I’ve had to do everyday.

Dinner finished, my two daughters and I sit down to eat.

“Are you girls excited to go to Wicked in a couple of days? And just so you know, my friend from work told me it was going to be way better than the musical we saw here in Wimbledon.”

“Oh really?” My youngest doesn’t look up from her dinner.

“What are you wearing?” My middle daughter joins the conversation.

“I’m dressing up. “ I assume this means conversation is in full force, so I continue. “It is in Central London this time and not a matinee. So, dress up.”

“In a costume?” In the incredulous tone of voice only a teenage girl can fully and wholly articulate.

“Um, not a costume.” My age is showing and I’m trying not to sound confused. “More like fancy. More dressed up than before.”

“Fancy dress?” Both girls are now looking at me.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“So a costume?” A small choir of two teenage girls in unison.

“Why would I wear a costume to the theatre? I’m not planning on joining in.” Do you ever have that feeling like you are missing something relevant? Both girls are now staring at me. Awkward half seconds tick by. I’m wondering how long they have known me. Have I ever worn a costume outside of a Halloween Party? Why would they even…and then a flash of light and I get it.

Images and lines from Abbot and Costello, “Who’s on First,” flash through my mind in rapid succession. “I don’t know…no, I Don’t Know’s on third…”

The only rational thing to do at this point is to carry the entire conversation on my own because I now think it’s hilarious.

“Why would I wear a costume?” I ask. And before anyone can answer, I keep going. “But you said you were wearing fancy dress…” I change the pitch of my voice slightly. (Think King Julian of Madagascar.) And I thoroughly amuse myself as I proceed to parody the best duo in comedy.

In mid-stride I hear, “Like Who’s On First. I get it.” At least my children are educated. But her recognition can’t slow my roll. I feel as though I just found my stride, so I obviously keep going. Another two lines at least.

“Right, fancy dress…so a costume…Why would I wear a costume?…”

Both girls have gone back to eating. But that is the beauty of writing. I get to re-live what I think was a hilarious interlude and now the frivolity has been transcribed into the written word for all of posterity. Heavy is the head…

Happy Halloween! Be safe and have fun in your Fancy Dress!!!

Cheers!

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