Monday, 4 June 2012

Chips With Everything (pic added Ju 14th)

It's a well-known expression regarding the languages spoken by Americans and that spoken by the citizens of the UK, that we are "two nations separated by the same language" (Oscar Wilde or Bernard Shaw, take your pick, but it wasn't Winston Churchill who came up with it first, right!). The thing is, this unfortunate state of affairs, much to the annoyance of us Brits, spills over into international English, such as is understood in third party countries, like Greece.

To illustrate. What are chips? See, we Brits come from the country where "English" originated, don't we? Thus, when we say "chips" we know exactly what we're talking about. They are potatoes cut into fingers and fried. There, see, it's not difficult is it? The trouble is, that when we talk about "International" English, we ought really to be saying "American" English and thus begin the problems for the poor unfortunate British visitor to Greece. There we were thinking that "English" was our language, when in fact it's been hijacked!! The Greeks, just like the Spanish, the Italians and probably every other country that isn't actually part of the UK, only understand the American version nowadays. Sorry folks, but that's the reality of it. Mind you, it has to be said that not a few inhabitants of the UK don't understand Queen's English any more, and I'm not talking about the immigrants either!

Now I'm sure you'll know, you don't have to have been to the States to have found this out (since American movies and TV "educate" us all these days), that over there they understand "chips" to mean something entirely different. Granted, they'll usually prefix it with the word "potato", but the damage is done, they're already thinking about CRISPS. Whose language is this anyway? "Crisps" is even a much better description of the thing described, don't you think?

Talking to some British guests on the boat last week, I was reminded of this problem when one of them told me that they'd ordered something (I think it was a salad, but whatever, can't rightly remember now) in a taverna and added to the waiter: "Can we have chips with it please?" The waiter had nodded and walked away, only to return later with the required salad, accompanied with a pile of crisps!!! What IS this world coming to, eh?

Uh, those are crisps guys. I rest my case.
So, for the benefit of all those Brits out there who want to be sure that when they want chips, chips is what they get, here's some useful information for you.

Of course you can opt to say "fries", but am I alone in disliking this version? Where did "fries" come from? Yup, right first time, the American tendency to refer to actual chips as "French Fries", but they've largely dropped the "French" these days. A lot of people say that's a good idea, to drop the French, but I rather like 'em. Mind you, being able to speak their language scores heavily there. We could explore the whole reason why chips had to become "French" to be understood for what they are by people in other parts of the globe, but why bother? The fact is, we British invented "fish and chips" didn't we? Imagine ordering that in an American diner.

A lot of Greek menus these days refer to "fries", thus illustrating my point about "international" English really being "American" English. But you'll score a whole lot more points with your Greek waiter (that's always assuming you're eating in family-run taverna, and not one of those that employs Polish girls for the summer season) if you hit them with a bit of Greek. Great! You'll score on two fronts, one: you get real chips and two, they'll think you're cool for knowing the Greek and possibly either give you a freebie at the end of your meal, or a discount.

So, why not, if you want real chips that is, ask for them in Greek? The Greek for what we Brits understand as chips is πατάτες τηγανιτές (which, much to my extreme annoyance, Google Translate comes up with as "Fries"! In fact, it means literally "Fried potatoes"). Here's a phonetic way to say it correctly:

Pattah'tes tigganitez'. Now, be sure to stress the right syllables. it's the middle syllable of the first word and the last one of the second. Go on, practice it. I've placed the apostrophe at the end of the syllable which you need to stress (and for no other reason!!). The double consonants are to help you to shorten the vowels.

Once again, here we see the difference between English English and American English. If you place two consonants together in Queen's English, it makes the preceding vowel short by following a simple rule. Like, cater or catter, get it (short "a" or long "a")? If I had a Euro for every American word that's dropped the double consonant and yet still shortens a vowel, I'd be a rich man. Like, you may have "travelled", but in American, you "traveled". According to the rule, you ought to pronounce that traveeled, but Americans don't. But it breaks the rule, folks!! I know, stable doors and bolted horses, but it still irritates!

Tell, you what. Why not drop the chips/fries/crisps anyway. Ask for πατάτες φούρνου (patah'tes for'nou - oven-baked potatoes) anyway. They're much more traditional and taste better!!

(In order to not cause offense to anyone [you have to be so careful these days, everyone's paranoid! -allegedly!!] I should add that I love Americans. I have no argument with them as human beings. Indeed, some of my closest friends are American. I have only ever met delightful Polish guests on my excursions and aren't the French such nice people..?)


  1. Thankyou for the information about how not to get chips or crisps with a meal.It will be patas for nous from now on.Are these the delicious variety baked in the oven with lemon and oil or baked in their jackets? Either way it doesn't matter as long as its not chips!The French are wonderful people i do agree with you:-)

    "Porridge Oats"

    1. If they're in their jackets, they're done for the tourist. The Trad method usually involves olive oil, herbs, lemon or a tomato sauce (not ketchup of course!!)

  2. I am Polish and even I get slightly frustrated at people's inability to understand ENGLISH English. What with corn beef, biscuits, pajamas-all the colorful flavors of language jewelery;)

    1. Of course, you are right. And even English English doesn't always follow its own rules. And how do we explain to someone learning the language, that Thames is pronounced Tems!!? That the town of Frome is pronounced Froom! Thanks for your input. What is the weather doing in Poland, where all the girls are beautiful (at least if my experience with my Polish guests on the excursions has any validity)?

    2. And, furthermore!! Check out my post about English language logic for a real taster as to how illogical English can be. (It's here: