A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tips and tricks

Swallowing Their Words

Thoughts on clarity in speech from the perspective of non-English speakers.

overcast 4 °C

Last Thursday, I took a train from Sheffield to Birmingham to meet up with some co-workers for dinner. The train between the two cities, when running direct, is very quick, taking just a few minutes over an hour.

As the evening turns into night, though, the direct trains stop running, and you need to change trains in Derby to get back to Sheffield. I had originally planned to get back on the 21:03 back to Sheffield, which is the last direct train, but by quarter to nine we hadn't even received our main course, so it became obvious to me I was going to be taking a longer trip back.

A few after dinner drinks and I ended up catching the last train heading towards Sheffield, arriving into Derby at midnight. I got off the train and looked up at the train board, seeing what I knew but was hoping wasn't true. The train from Derby to Sheffield wasn't until 00:50, almost an hour from my arrival. All the shops in the station were closed, so I wandered out of the station and decided I would take advantage of my hour in Derby.

Firstly, I should point out that the city name is pronounced DAR-BEE, not DER-BEE. I don't know why, but it is. English very rarely makes much sense, as I was soon to learn... but let's not jump ahead.

Walking out of the station, I surveyed the scene. It didn't look very impressive. Outside the station I could see a few restaurants and pubs, but they were shut down for the night. The only thing open was the Bubble Spa, with a brightly lit store-front with all the windows covered. A spa with paper covered windows open at midnight. I guess there is always the possibility that someone has a late night nail emergency, but I figured it was more likely that the spa was featuring services above and beyond pedicures and exfoliations. I was looking for something different than a full-release happy ending though - treatments for my stress in a pint glass.

I wandered a few blocks away and found a pub that was open. I walked in. Like most pubs, it was long and thin. Like most pubs, the front room was filled with a few tables, some chairs and a bar with draught taps. Unlike most pubs, the back was filled with a dance floor, DJ booth and flashing lights.

"Is this a pub, or is it a dance club," I wondered. I looked around and decided that it didn't matter, as neither the traditional pub nor the dance floor had a single patron. I took a seat at the bar.

A bartender came out from the back room. "Hello there," he said, slight hint of an accent in his voice.

I gestured at the dance floor. "I guess all the dancers must be in the toilet," I joked. The bartender looked at me with a confused look on his face. "Never mind," I said. "I'll have a pint of Carling."

The bartender poured the beer, and with no other customers, we started chatting. He was from Poland, and he picked up pretty quickly that I wasn't from England. "Are you American," he asked.

"No, I am Canadian," I said.

"You must work for Bombardier," he exclaimed. I don't, but it was a good guess. Bombardier is a Canadian company that makes, among other things, trains, and they have a huge presence in Derby, their UK headquarters.

I told him that I didn't work for Bombardier, but rather am a consultant. The bartender told me how he wanted to move to Canada. "I'd really like to move to America, but I think it is easier for me to get to Canada," he said. "I have cousins who live in America."

"Where? I've worked a lot of places in America," I said. That spurred a whole conversation on cities in America. He wanted to get my impression on places he was thinking of moving. California, I told him, was nice but expensive. Florida is good if you can find work, and a lot cheaper than California. As someone in the service industry, Florida is certainly a good choice.

During our conversation, another bartender came out, this one a girl from Russia. She joined the conversation here and there, especially when we were discussing the weather in the UK (they both wondered why I would want to move to the UK, as it was cold and grey all the time) and terrorism threats in the USA (The Russian and I agreed that the USA was no safer nor no more dangerous than other places).

Apropos of nothing, the male bartender said, "you are easy to understand. It is hard to understand people from England when they speak."

"They swallow their words," said the female Russian bartender.

"Swallow their words?" I asked.

"Yeah, they don't finish what they say," the Polish bartender said. "They say half a word then stop. Americans and Canadians speak more clearly."

This wasn't, in fact, the first time I had heard this. A few people who have English as a second language have told me that same thing - I am easier to understand than English people. In some ways, I think it is because many people learn English by watching American TV shows, and thus become used to the American accent. Then again, sometimes I find myself struggling with an English accent, especially when they start speaking quickly.

Just then, another customer walked into the bar and took a seat. "Mate, can I 'ave a pint of Carling," he asked. I listened closely and noticed that in fact, they Russian was right. The last consonant tended to be clipped. It wasn't that the sound wasn't there, just that it was short and quick, like the last sound was spoken at double speed. Add to this the British tendency to abbreviate many words (veg for vegetable, goss for a gossip magazine, brill for brilliant, champy for Champagne), and I can understand how someone could think that the Brits are swallowing their words.

The Brit at the end of the bar continued to swallow his words, clipping the end sounds off them, and also slurring as his words as this obviously wasn't his first pub of the day. He talked at the bartenders, who looked at him confused. I looked at my watch and realized I had to go to catch my train.

"Good luck," I said to the Polish bartender, both wishing him luck in his future dream of living in America, and also in his current problem of understanding the swallowed words coming out of his latest customer.

Posted by GregW 13:11 Archived in England Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Crying In My Budweiser – The Blues of St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri, USA

View Work Trips 1997 - 2004 on GregW's travel map.

I got the St. Louis blues, just as blue as I can be.
That man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea,
Or else he wouldn’t have gone so far from me.

- St. Louis Blues, W.C. Handy

W. C. Handy’s song, first published in 1914, has become one of the most performed songs in music history and inspired the name of St. Louis’ National Hockey League team. In the early part of the 1900s, riverboats from New Orleans brought jazz and blues into St. Louis, where it mixed with the local ragtime made famous by Scott Joplin to create the unique St. Louis Blues sound. Later, in the 40s and 50s, the St. Louis sound again morphed, mixing with rhythm and blues to create a “driving dance beat with a bluesy delivery,” exemplified by St. Louis natives Ike and Tine Turner.

St. Louis, Missouri is the Gateway to the West. In 1935, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park was established to celebrate the Westward expansion of the U.S.A. from 1803 to 1890. The park is best known for, and dwarfed by the Gateway Arch. Eero Saarinen designed the Arch in 1947, and construction on the 630 foot high structure was completed in 1965.

Just south of downtown along Broadway Street is BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. Housed at 700 South Broadway Street in a building dating back to the 1800s that originally was Phil’s Hotel, BB’s provides good food, a well stocked bar and live music from some of the best local blues and jazz artists.

Just down the street from BB’s is the Broadway Oyster Bar at 736 South Broadway. Just as the blues of St. Louis took musical influences from New Orleans, Broadway Oyster Bar takes it’s food and atmosphere influences from the Big Easy. The Cajun and Creole food and cozy interior is good, but it is the exterior that is the best part. Voted the Best Outside Dining by the AOL City Guide (2004), the patio at Broadway’s is a great place to eat and drink under the stars and listen to blues and Cajun music. Oysters, fried alligator and a washboard solo by the zydeco trio playing on the patio, it’s the French Quarter in St. Louis.

Continuing south along Broadway you will find Soulard, a neighborhood with a French flavor, lots of churches and the Soulard Market. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery, home of the world famous Clydesdales horses and their guardians, friendly Dalmatians, borders the neighborhood to the south.

Among the many great pubs, restaurants and bars to see live music is 1860s Hard Shell Café & Bar at 1860 South Ninth Street. Live blues, rock and more, seven nights a week. The bar is small and smoky, but the food is good, the music hot and what better place to see blues than in a smoky, crowded bar!

Heading back North through downtown, right on the banks of the Mississippi is Laclede’s Landing. A nine-block area that originally housed industries and warehouses, the Landing has been transformed into a tourist area with historic touches like cobblestone streets and horse drawn carriages. During the day the streets are filled with tourists looking for lunch at the overpriced chain restaurants or the entrance to the riverboat casino, and at night it is filled with college students looking for a cheap beer buzz. However, once a year during Labor Day weekend, the Landing plays host to the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Blues artists, both local talent and national and international names come and play on numerous outdoor stages that fill the streets, courtyards and parks of the Landing. Great talent playing all day and into the night as well as good food and drink booths make this a must do event for all music lovers.

W.C. Handy wrote in The St. Louis Blues that he hated “to see the evening sun go down,” but given the great music scene that gets going after dark in St. Louis, a music lover finding themselves on the shores of the muddy Mississippi should be counting the hours until they can find themselves a cold beer, a hot meal and some cool blues.

Posted by GregW 16:54 Archived in USA Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain High

Denver, Colorado

View Work Trips 1997 - 2004 on GregW's travel map.

I lived in Downtown Denver, Colorado from July of 2000 until March of 2001. I had a beautiful one-bedroom apartment facing west, so when I woke up in the morning I would look out my window and see the sun shining on the mountains. I must admit, growing up in Toronto (which is pretty flat), it was quite impressive to see those mountains every morning. I never really grew bored of watching the mountains, even though they never really did anything except sit there.

Me and the Stanley Cup at the NHL All-Star Game

Denver is famously known as the “Mile High City,” because it is, more or less, 5,280 feet above sea level. The first few weeks in Denver I was affected by the altitude – I would get winded walking up a single flight of stairs and I would get tipsy after only two or three drinks. That’s good for the budget though. However, within a month my body had adapted to the lower oxygen air by producing more red blood cells, and the altitude no longer affected me.

An offshoot of my high altitude adjustments was that when I returned on the occasional weekend to Toronto, I felt superhuman! I could run around without getting winded, and could drink pitcher after pitcher of beer without feeling drunk at all. I was a shoe-in at drinking contests!

Downtown Denver is one of those places that obviously fell on hard times, and then sometime in the last 10 years or so somebody in city council decided to revitalize downtown. So all the old factories and stuff have been turned into art galleries and restaurants and bars. There aren’t very many people living in downtown yet, but each year more and more people are moving back into the city center.

But back to the bars, one of my favorites is the Sports Column, at 1930 Blake Street. Good chicken wings, cold beer and lots of big screens. Plus, I made out with some chick there the night of Super Bowl 2001. Also good and cheap is the Giggling Grizzly at 1320 20th Street. The Grizzly has lots of drink specials, including “flipping for your drink.” You flip a quarter – if you call it right your drink is a $0.25. If you call it wrong, your drink is full price.

The 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian mall with a bunch of shops and restaurants along it. For food, Marlowe’s is good, and the Paramount Café has a nice patio. A free shuttle runs the length of the Mall.


Denver is obviously gateway to some great skiing. I skied Vail, Aspen (Snowmass) and Winter Park. While Winter Park is less crowded, they only had one chair lift up to the back bowls. Vail has lots of lifts servicing the back bowls, and they are in the sun, which makes for some nice, casual skiing. If you go up for the weekend, though, leave yourself lots of time coming back from the mountains – the traffic from Vail into Denver along highway 70 is very crowded on Sunday nights.

Posted by GregW 15:39 Archived in USA Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

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