In our series “Common English Phrases and their meaning” our team shares their experiences with very British phrases that confuse non-native speakers. The start makes our Vendor Manager Adrian Cruz with “What’s the damage?”
I arrived in the United Kingdom in 2009, and due to the financial problems that the world was going through, it was particularly difficult to find a job in my field. So I took the plunge and got a job as a waiter in a pub in the north of England. Despite my basic knowledge of English language (intermediate level, I was told) I didn’t feel confident enough to hold a conversation or to understand the radio, TV or group conversations. I was hopeful that working in a pub as a waiter would allow me to ask the same questions again and again. Naturally, I had to learn about British gastronomy, which is amazing (yes!). Well, my most frequent key phrases were welcoming customers, asking if they would like to order drinks, what they would like to order, if everything was okay, if they would like anything else, etc.
Usually towards the end of their meals, they were just asking for “the bill please” which was easy enough for me to understand. But one day a gentleman with three children arrived in the pub, so I followed the same procedures and asked the same questions. He quickly realised that I was foreign and I continued with my tasks as normal. Once they had finished their meals and were ready to ask for the bill, I approached to ask what I thought was going to be my last question: Would you like to order anything else? He replied, “No thanks. What’s the damage?” I looked at him very confused and immediately started to check under the table to find out what happened. After closer inspection of the floor where I couldn’t find any broken glass, I started to get confused and simply asked: “What did you break?” I could see he wanted to laugh as I clearly did not understand that English expression. So very kindly he looked at me again and said: “the bill please”.
That was when I learned that this new English expression “what’s the damage” means, what’s the cost, price, bill, total of something. Two morals to this story: you learn completely unexpected phrases in unexpected places, and secondly, if you want to learn a language, you need to get out there and start using it!
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