Are you alright?

July 31, 2008

No, that’s not what I think you’re thinking because we haven’t posted a blog entry in such a long time, it’s an idiosyncrasy of London speechifying I’d like to draw to your attention to. The customary pleasantry “How are you?” is more often than not replaced with the above in this town and it still never fails to disconcert me. ‘Why, do I look that bad/sick/badly dressed/deranged?’ I ask myself, and, confused, pause before answering. Which perplexes the poor person doing the asking (who isn’t slightly interested in any answer other than the standard “I’m ok”) and probably makes them wonder whether I am actually alright. Somehow this question and its companion “Are you ok?” (the correct answer for this one is “I’m alright” as far as I can work out) seems to proscribe never feeling better than ok, so I’ve now taken to answering with marvellouses and topses and wonderfuls, which takes everyone aback.

And I too was taken aback the other day when shopping for bedlinen. English people have the quaintest names for pillowslip sizes. Not content with standard pillow, European pillow, throw pillow, pillowsham and whatnot, they have many, many, more. Here are two of my favourites – the housewife pillow, which, as it turns out, is the same as a standard pillow (no frills for her) and the boudoir. Due to time constraints I didn’t find out what the boudoir was, but in the interests of thorough journalism I may be compelled to go shopping this weekend…



  1. Yes, I can understand your being disconcerted by such a question. I wonder how, when, why, it started (during the war perhaps?)

    I also wonder how Brits feel when Aussies ask ‘Howy’re goin’ and wonder if they should reply ‘By bus, train, walking, or driving.’

  2. I remember someone at school who had such a broad accent that it took me two goes to understand his “airy’garn?” – I thought it might have been ‘where are you going’ rather than ‘how are you going’…

  3. I think I’d have to buy The Boudoir just on principle.

  4. My late father found it strange when Aussies would ask “Are you alright?” after someone had fallen, injured themselves and such. To him it was obvious in such circumstances, that one wasn’t alright!

    The question was once posed by a work colleague of my father’s, when my dad had badly cut/injured his hand….my dad said, “Of course, I’m not bloody alright!” My father in re-telling the story, said that there was blood everywhere….now,how can that be alright?

  5. I think that when the question “are you alright?” is asked in Australia the real meaning is “you’re clearly a bit sub-par, but do you need me to get involved?” or perhaps “yes I can see something’s the matter, but I would like to hear you demonstrate your powers of understatement.”

  6. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    • Cheers, Sandra, glad you like it.
      If only I was a little more committed to it…

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