Piffies on Rock Buns: Multilingual Parenting with a Yorkshire Twist

by contributor · 4 comments

multilingual parenting bilingual children

By Suze Nowak
Photo credit: jaaron

“Come on Finje, get a twitch on. We have to leave now. I’m sitting here like Piffy on a rock bun!”

Finje’s expression, when she eventually appeared at the top of the stairs, was questioning.

I, no doubt due to a combination of advancing old age and last minute passport-money- ticket checking, had already forgotten what I’d said.

Bundling her into the car though, I could sense the impending onslaught of questions. She was repeating “Piffy” under her breath, playing with this new word, rolling it around her tongue and was clearly perplexed. 

In my defence, this is not a phrase I would, under normal circumstances deliver. I place the blame for this slip into deep Northern vernacular, firmly on the shoulders of my very Northern friend.

Over for a visit and along with Vimto, Bisto and crumbly Cheddar Cheese, Rachael brought with her Northern charm by the bucket full and a plethora of colloquialisms which I hadn’t heard for quite some time.

Having taught English in Germany for a number of years, I (usually) took pity on my students by softening my accent to some extent. Staying true to my roots though, with me it’s hard vowels. BAth not bAAAth and grAss not grAAAss. When speaking English, Finje, despite an unmistakable Teutonic lilt, grass, bath and suchlike have a  distinctly Northern hue. But “Piffy on a rock bun” had her, understandably, baffled.

Spending time with Rachael had me on a roll. Before you could say “whippet” Finje found herself having to negotiate a whole new vocabulary. Fortunately, she didn’t enquire as to the origin of each saying, just the meaning. This was a particular relief, as I have no idea who or what Piffy is! Likewise Lewis. “I’m standing around here like one of Lewis’s!” This, Google informs me, refers to the mannequins in Lewis’s shop window. Who’d have thunk it?

As my poor daughter, already battling with three languages, found herself bombarded with advanced level Yorkshire, you could almost see her little brain beginning to smoulder. Her pronunciation of “Off o’er yonder” had us all in stitches leaving her more confused than ever.

“We have to stop, it’s child cruelty” spluttered my friend after snorting red wine out of her nose. So, to Finje’s considerable relief, we decided to speak “proper like”, and give the kid a break.

Small people however, never cease to surprise, entertain and delight with their sponge-like brains.

A few weeks later, the much wiggled, jiggled and frankly horrifically wobbly tooth Finje had been torturing me with for months, at long last detached itself from her gums. Considering the level of excitement that followed, one could be forgiven for thinking she’d managed to negotiate with The Tooth Fairy for the delivery of a pony!

After presenting me with the minuscule, hollow and slightly bloody peg cradled in the palm of her grubby hand and screaming with delight she eventually took a minute to consider the wonders of the human body.

Staring down at the discarded milk tooth, her little blond bunches swinging back and forth as she shook her head in wonder, I heard her whisper,

“Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.”


Suze Nowak decided to quit her job in UK ten years ago and with a “now or never” motto, determined to realise her life long dream to learn another language, she upped sticks and moved to Germany. After teaching English for five years at Berlitz Language School, she resolved to concentrate on her dream career as a freelance writer and had great success with her award winning column for www.parentdish.co.uk, “Achtung Baby”. The column followed the trials and tribulations of bringing up a bilingual child and being a foreigner in the country she chose to live in and has grown to love. Ten years down the line Suze has gained a certain proficiency in her second language, has married a German man and has a six year-old daughter who switches nationality on a daily, nay hourly, basis.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karrywags July 16, 2012 at 2:50 am

My dad had a book when I was a child called ” Lancashire Miscellany” which was full of such phrases as ” Eh dear I’m welly off me chump” !!
My dad uses phrases like “Stop lozacking” and ” there’s nowt wrong with gradely folk”
Piffy on a rock bun was commonly said and still makes me laugh as I haven’t a clue what Piffy is. Good luck with explaining Lancashire words to Finje !


2 daisy July 16, 2012 at 3:47 am

this took me back to my childhood with my grandmother….s stout northern lass….talking,what seemed to me,in riddles.great to hear the “Piffy” expression after all this time!great article Suze !


3 John Richter July 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Interesting as always Suze….I lived in Lancashire for over 40 years and I never heard “Piffy on a rock bun!”


4 Peter Duff July 19, 2012 at 6:22 am

Suze – one of Lewis’s – I would have spontaneously thought of the Lewis’ statue in the ‘pool. But thanks for the etymology. Never heard of Piffy – but if you are looking for a some reading material – I found a link – from down-under http://www.newcreation.org.au/books/pdf/337_MrPiffy.pdf – apparently the hero is Mr Piffy.
Keep up the entertaining articles.


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