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Some things about Britain make sense only to the British. Of these, probably the strangest is social class.

There are three main class divisions in Britain with some 'in between' variations (such as ‘upper middle’): upper-middle and lower or working class. And people in Britain are very conscious of class differences.

The different classes in Britain tend to eat different food at different time of the day (and call the meals by different names), they like to talk about different topics, they enjoy different pastimes and sports and have different ideas about the correct way to behave.

The easiest way to guess the class to which the person belongs to is to listen to the way he or she speaks. A person’s accent in Britain is an identity card. Other people will be able to say what social background you come from, where you were born or educated, and what kind of job you do.

Changing an accent is difficult, even for actors. To achieve the desired accent, a British person must speak it from childhood. This is one of the reasons why people still send their children to expensive private schools. It is not that the education there is better, but because, as adults, they will have the right accent and manners.

A person’s vocabulary is also very important. Here is a good class-test you can try: when talking to an English person, say some­thing too quietly for them to hear you properly. A lower-middle or middle-middle person will say ‘Pardon?’; an upper-middle will say ‘Sorry?’ (or perhaps ‘Sorry – what?’); but an upper-class and a working-class person will both say ‘What?’ The working per­son, however, will drop the ‘t’ – ‘Wha’?’

‘Toilet’ is another word that makes the higher classes exchange knowing looks. The correct upper word is ‘lavatory’ or ‘loo’. The working classes all say ‘toilet’, as do most lower-middles and middle-middles, the only difference being the working-class dropping of the final ‘t’.

Here are some more examples:

Upper Non-upper
napkin serviette
sitting room lounge
sofa settee
pudding desert, sweet
lunch dinner
(about midday meal)
scent perfume

An interesting thing about the class system in Britain is that very often it has nothing to do with money. A person with an upper-class accent, using upper-class words, will be recognized as upper class even if he or she is unem­ployed or homeless. And a person with working-class pronunciation, who calls a sofa ‘a settee’, and his midday meal ‘dinner’, will be identified as work­ing class even if he is a multi-millionaire living in a grand country house.

Adopted from the Speak-out

to make sense иметь смысл, быть понятным
in between промежуточный, пограничный
social background социальное происхождение
to achieve добиваться, достигать
to drop опускать, не произносить
lavatory туалет
loo разг. туалет
napkin салфетка
serviette франц. салфетка
lounge гостиная
settee диван, канапе
scent духи
perfume духи
to have nothing to do with не иметь никакого отношения к
unemployed безработный
grand великолепный, роскошный

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