I moved to the UK right from school and on my own, arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into London as a young man perhaps too excited to see the world. I was met promptly with old school British bureaucracy to help me learn a valuable lesson in personal administration while also a subtle lesson in how to tell the time!
What time is it?
Having migrated to England without any local family or friends, I tried to quickly secure work and a new place to live while my savings were being assaulted by the exchange rate of the time. Some $2.40+ per £1.00, things were a bit... excitable.
My arrival was met with what I would learn to be a staple among British culture, that bureaucracy and paperwork go hand in hand with daily life.
In applying for work I needed a bank account to receive my pay. Cash in hand work does exist, but you need friends for that sort of thing to put you onto it in the first place. I didn't have a bank account yet, I only just arrived!
So, I set out to the bank and tried to open an account. This is where things go a bit pear shaped. No bank would permit me an account as I didn't have a job and payment history to prove I wasn't a fraudster or delinquent account owner elsewhere!?!
In the end, I had to get a sort of bank sponsor through a university program for students. While not a student, I managed to get on the program and went in to the offices near the Australian embassy of all places, in order to start my paperwork.
I queued up with the hundreds of other young people from all over and waited my turn to just request an appointment. When my turn arrived, I found myself in front of a sort of makeshift admin table with a young blonde woman handing out info packets and keeping a sort of hand written appointment book. I was handed some paperwork and a pen, then told "come back about half to..."
She was seated, I think my eyes glazed over and my stare rose above to the wall just behind her head - my peripherals searching for a clock, I could see that it was a few minutes passed 2:00pm.
In my mind, and before the words could yet escape my mouth, I was thinking "half to what!?!" Not helping that I had seen the clock and figured half something meant she was asking me to go back in time to 1:30 or something crazy like this.
She must have understood that I didn't understand, but didn't really help in repeating herself. Basically telling a well-dressed log to "please come back at half to..."
Hahaha she never actually trailed off in her speech, it was me feeling a pause and being an idiot. Why not just ask her the time or what she meant?
"'Half two' I said, it's already passed two, you'll just have to wait a few minutes." she said again, this time more sternly and probably wondering how we're speaking the same language, my Canadian passport in hand and my thorough paperwork having clearly requested an English language info packet. Thankfully, her extra few words clued me in to the meaning and where I had just learned how to tell the time!
Britspeak struck, I learned that no one says "half passed whatever time it is " they just skip straight to the number and carry on quickly with the next bit of paperwork needed to get to the end of the work day haha
For example, "half two" would mean 2:30 - pm in my above case, I was to wait about 25 minutes. Although I wonder if the whole exchange killed the first 5 minutes of my wait.