The Expat Lurgy

I have an American friend who has lived in this country for about a year and half. And she has had the most horrible autumn in terms of colds and illness. I told her, "Don't worry, you just just have the expat lurgy!"

The term "lurgy" is one of those British-isms that I love. It is the approximate equivalent of the American playground highly-infectious "cooties", although now it is used by adults to describe any sort of undefined infection malady, in my experience usually the common cold. It's a fair description -- a cold is highly infectious with no known cure and although not life threatening, most people have to keep working and functioning, all the while feeling pretty much like death.

Moving to another country, in so many ways, is like going to kindergarten, school, nursery or daycare for the first time. You are suddenly exposed to a variety of germs that you have no immunity to yet. And so, the first few winters with the expat lurgy can be quite wearing.

Along this vein, in a sort of get-better-soon post dedicated to her, I thought I'd observe a few differences in illness terminology between English and American English.

First, when you aren't feeling well in England, you would say, I'm ill, or I was ill. In America you would say I'm sick or I was sick. You might want to avoid saying that in England as "being sick" means vomitting, specifically. In the lift at work if someone asks you where you were yesterday and you say, "oh, I was sick", they might be taken aback at your overshare of bathroom-related information.

Second, you don't go to the emergency room here, but accident & emergency (fondly called A&E). And you aren't in the hospital, you're only in hospital. I'm not sure where the definite article went to.

Third, if you're baffled why they don't sell Tylenol (or acetaminophen) in this country, it's because it's called paracetamol in the U.K. Both names are derived from the chemical compound: acetyl-para-aminophenol.

And on that note, I leave you with my best U.K. cold tip (which I credit my friend Erin for sharing with me years ago): buy Sudafed behind the counter at the chemist (drug store) and not on the main shelves. That's where you can get the original decongestant made from pseudoephedrine, which is the stuff that actually makes you feel better. The other stuff (phenyleprine hydrocloride) is less effective, in my opinion.

P.S. And do you know why the pseudophedrine is only sold on request, and similarly restricted now in the U.S. as well? It's because pseudoephedrine is used as in ingredient in the stimulant methamphetamine, or speed. The last time I bought some when I was home in New York, they asked for my driver's license and took down all my details. It's funny because I find both countries inconsistent in the precautions they take to insure our safety. They don't ask for identification here when buying Sudafed, but they won't sell you more than two boxes of ibuprofen at the same time and the tablets are wrapped in foil pop-out containers, which seems completely unnecessary. Contrast this with the fact that they sell pain killers here that contain codeine over the counter, which is highly addictive. The only thing they ask you when you buy it is "have you taken this before?", which almost seems to encourage serial use.

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1 comment

  1. Thank you for this posting!! I feel more prepared for any future U.K. Cooties ;) and its very good to know being sick vs. ill! -MK


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