By Katharina Nassentein

British flag

Before I came to the UK on the ERASMUS scheme 2 years ago, my fellow German students and I felt we were quite well prepared in regards to British culture, customs and traditions.

Our lecturers at home told us to be polite at all times yet indirect (“even if you write a complaint, never forget to say please”), never stare at fellow passengers on public transport and be aware that British humour might be very different to ours. In fact, one of my British teachers accused Germans of not having a sense of humour at all…

Dog on the beach

So, on my first day here, when a male shop assistant addressed me as  “love”, I was very surprised and didn’t quite know if I should feel like he’d made a sexist remark, or be happy that I’d been warmly greeted by a stranger. After all, hadn’t I been told that Britons tend to be stiff, reserved and don’t like showing affection, except to their pets?

After a few weeks I found out there are numerous terms of endearment used throughout the UK.  Darling, honey, flower, pet, babes and sweetheart, being but a few of them.

Over time, I’ve gotten used to these kinds of pet names. However, I can’t help feeling slightly patronised and a little confused when someone the same age as me (or even younger!) calls me ‘hun’.

Ultimately, having spent most of my life in Germany, I will probably not start using such  over familiar pet names myself any time soon except with  my boyfriend, close family , or a young child.

It makes me feel nostalgic for the times I’ve been shopping in Germany and have heard a grumpy shop assistant shouting “NEXT!”

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  • Vanessa Horn

    I have to agree with what you have written in your article. When I came to Great Britain, I was taught many things about how to behave, how people are, what you should expect in this country and what you shouldn’t. The truth here was different to what I heard in my lessons in Germany. In my opinion, people in Great Britain are much more open-minded than people at home – something I enjoyed so much while spending time in Swansea. I often heard things like “my love” or “darling”. You wouldn’t hear that in Germany, and at first it was strange to me, but when you get used to it, it’s simply gorgeous 🙂

  • Katharina Nassenstein

    Thanks for your comment Vanessa, it is always great to hear what other Germans think about this topic. Whether I like being called a pet name mostly depends on the person who addresses me. If it is an older lady it makes me feel at home and I feel closer to that person, like with a family member. I am interested in knowing if Britons use pet names deliberately or not. A friend once told me that “only chavvy people” do it. What do you think?

  • What a great article. I particularly like the fact that it challenges the typical stereotype of British people being emotionally stunted and uptight! I think that the reason there is a confused view of the British character is simply due to the fact that we are in fact four nations, each with our own cultures and characters. While some parts of Great Britain are known for their stiff upper lip, other areas are well known for their warm welcome, I may be biased, but I do think that the Welsh are a particularly warm and welcoming bunch!

    By the way we definitely do have grumpy shop assistants shouting ‘NEXT!’ here in the UK too! I was one myself!

  • Silke Lührmann

    You know what I really miss about Germany sometimes? Occasionally I am overcome by a perverse longing to go to the supermarket and simply push my trolley through clusters of old ladies having a chat in the vegetable aisle without having to say “Excuse me … would you mind … oh, I’m awfully sorry …” Which probably confirms a lot of stereotypes British people (whether they’re are Welsh, Scottish, Irish or…what was the fourth one again?) have about Germans: scratch their surface and you’ll find a stormtrooper.

  • Vanessa Horn

    Hi Katharina, I don’t think that it is about chavvy people. What I do think is that British people really are the way they show it, including calling unknown people the way we both experienced it. To be honest, I liked being called like this, as you said, it makes you feel as if you were at home.

  • My first “Darling” from a woman inside the Swansea Market was quite surprising, but in a way I liked it. Being a German in this country forces me to pay attention to people and how they are expressing themselves. There are things I like and dislike but isn’t it the same in Germany? I think I will get used to this lovely English expressions ….

  • Ana Sánchez

    I love your article, Katharina! I feel so identified with your words! It’s difficult to get used to this cultural differences, but it’s also a really enriching experience.

    And then it’s funny when you come back to your country after spending some time abroad and you start addressing people the same way, which is even more shocking for them…