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 only that the education there is better, but because, as adults, they will have the right accent and manners, and equally importantly, they will make good social contacts that they can use later in life.
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-class person will say 'Pardon?'; an upper-middle class 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 class word is 'lavatory' or 'loo'. The working classes all say 'toilet', as do most lower-middles and middle-middle classes, the only difference being the working-class dropping of the final 't' again.
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.
Answer the questions:
1. How many major class divisions are there in Great Britain?
2. What are the differences between the social classes?
Choose the right answer to the question:
Is it difficult to achieve the desired accent?
a) no, if you speak it from childhood
b) yes, for everyone
c) what other features can be used to distinguish class background?
On October 25th 1911, the London General Omnibus Company ran their last horse-drawn omnibus through the streets of the capital. Then followed the era of the tramcar, but since then the big red motor bus has been London's 'king of the road'. Every day, thousands of Londoners use the big red buses to move around town; and lots of tourists know that a one-day London bus pass, valid on all regular bus routes, offers a wonderful way to see the sights of Britain's capital city.
The idea of the 'double decker' is actually much older than the motor bus; it is simply a continuation of the system that was used for public transport in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, when some of the passengers sat inside, and the rest travelled on the roof. If it rained, passengers could take a sort of oil-cloth cover out of the back of the seat in front of them, and pull it over them, but they still got pretty wet. It wasn't until the 1930s that all new buses became equipped with roofs over the upper deck. Today the only open-topped buses are the special tourist buses. The most famous London buses, however, are not those that filled the capital's streets in the 1930s, but the powerful 'Routemasters' which date from the 1950s and 60s. These are the buses that have been taken all over the world, the buses that you can see in the tourist brochures, and the ones which have been sold, in miniature, to millions of visitors and souvenir hunters.
The Routemaster is a legend in itself! With its open platform at the back end, the Routemaster is still the most popular bus in London, because passengers can climb on and off when they want, even if the bus is moving (though this is not recommended!).
These buses were designed specially for London, by people who knew what London needed, and they have served their purpose well.
Things started to go wrong for the London bus in the late 1960s. That was when the Ministry of Transport decided that it would only give financial assistance to bus companies that bought new buses with doors! They had to choose other models instead. Today, European Union rules also stipulate that new buses for public transport must have doors. Determined to keep the buses that Londoners (and tourists) want, London Transport has decided to keep the old Routemasters going as long as possible. The RM was taken out of use in June 2007 due to a law requiring busses to have access for disabled people. However London Transport has kept two RM routes running as tourists’ attractions. They are routes No 9 and 15. Both run from Trafalgar Square and run past many of London tourist sites. Five hundred of the popular old buses have been renovated, and are now back on the road as good as new, if not better! The London Transport museum at Covent Garden has exhibits of all London buses from 1850 to the present day including the RM.
The black London taxi cab is another traditional symbol of London. It looks old-fashioned and clumsy, but in fact it's comfortable and speedy. Besides, London taxi drivers know the city very well. They spend up to two years studying and memorizing 25,000 streets, as well as the locations of hospitals, hotels, theatres, clubs, museums, etc. Then they have to pass a very difficult test called 'The Knowledge'. So when you climb into the famous black cab you can be absolutely sure that it'll get you wherever you want and by the quickest possible route.
Answer the questions:
1. Why was the RM taken out of use?
2. What kind of test do London taxi drivers have to pass?
Choose the right answer to the question:
Is the RM an open-topped bus?
a) yes b) no c) no, but it was before 1960s.