When I came to live in London, way back in 1989, I learned a lesson early on about the difference between British English and American English.

Running into a stationers in a terrible hurry, I asked the salesperson for a Week At A Glance diary.

‘No, don’t have ’em,’ he said, as I scanned the large display of diaries on the wall.

‘What about that one?’ I asked, pointing to a Week At A Glance diary just to the left of his head.

‘Except that one,’ he said.


An incident a few days ago brought this story to mind.

I was trying out a new horse. ‘He’s wonderful,’ said his owner. ‘Never puts a hoof wrong. He’s gentle as a lamb, calm, easy, anxious to please, no problem to anyone. A three-year-old child could ride this horse.’

In other words, a miracle horse. Wow!  How lucky was I?

It must be said that I ignored a few clues that might have made me suspicious. Like his name (Ricochet). The fact that he’s a competition horse, which suggests a certain excitability of nature. But I’m a trusting soul. If someone tells me a three-year-old can ride this horse, I’m thinking, how cool, a three-year-old can ride this horse!

I mounted Mr Perfect in a state of rosy relaxation, rode around the indoor school at a sedate pace for a few minutes, carefully, sensibly. Lovely. A bit keen, but am I worried?  Of course not. A three-year-old can ride this horse!

‘Ask him for canter’ suggested his owner, from way off in the opposite corner.

And suddenly we were at Newmarket, flying into the second mile at 35 mph. Ricochet ran flat out round and round the school like Little Black Sambo’s tigers, in a screaming dead run for what seemed more or less forever, but was probably about four minutes. Which is quite a long time to be contemplating your own mortality. My life, being not-crammed with incident, had time to flash before my eyes six or seven times.

Finally, bored and possibly a teensy bit winded, he slowed.

‘Were you meaning to go that fast?’ asked his owner.

I jogged over to her. ‘Not really,’ I said, wild-eyed and panting. ‘Is he often like this?’

‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘When he hasn’t been ridden for a day or two.’

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE THREE-YEAR-OLD CHILD??? I wanted to scream. Having lived in England for 22 years, however, I merely smiled politely.



13 thoughts on “Two nations divided by a common language.

  1. Caroline Coxon 7 years ago

    Alfie and Poppy appreciate this story and tell me that Ricochet is an animal after their own hearts. They tell me that after all, you did ask him for canter, so what are you griping about? They add that some human beings are never satisfied. Caroline certainly isn’t, they say. She moans when we won’t move and she moans even louder when we decide to show her what moving really means. Then we remind her about Durchlässigkeit…

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Tell Poppy and Alfie that a nice collected canter is NOT a flat out screaming gallop. And ask them to spread the word.

  2. Jan Carr 7 years ago

    So in America ‘could’ is a whole lot less theoretical than in Britain?
    Explains a lot.

  3. Mike 7 years ago

    Ricochet, ears pinned back, rider low in the saddle, white knuckles gripping the reins. To use a quaint English word: blimey!

  4. Alice 7 years ago

    Thank god for the rail is all I can say! I’ve learned not to trust anyone’s opinion of a horse’s manner, and always bring my expert (fearless and macho) riding friends along to try out the beast before I get on! So glad to hear you survived that one.

  5. Martin 7 years ago

    Poor you! Two horses, divided by an economy with the truth?

  6. Caroline Coxon 7 years ago

    I had a word with Poppy and Alfie this morning and they said (in unison)’Yeah, right. We have our reputations to consider.’

    They preferred yesterday’s picture. Today they’re feeling quite traumatised.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Funny. That’s pretty much how I was feeling.

  7. Caroline Coxon 7 years ago

    Perhaps you could show the picture to Ricochet? That should give him pause for thought.

  8. nicola baird 7 years ago

    Two things: 1) quiet as a lamb = mad in horse language (think how lambs buck and kick and twist!). 2) if you ask someone if they can do something an American will say yes (even if only done it once) and a British person (even if an Olympic athelete) will just grunt cautiously, well sort of. It’s very confusing, and often dangerous. Don’t be tempted by Ricochet however cute a name/challenge. Happy xmas!

  9. Pingback: The lure of the bad boy. | Meg Rosoff

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