This week we're delighted to have Nappy Valley Girl as our guest blogger discussing UK/UK vocabulary with Mike:
Nappy Valley Girl:
Last week, my four year old son looked up at the leaves floating down from the trees. “Mummy,” he said. “It’s Fahl.”
It took me a couple of moments to understand what he meant. Then I realised; he was talking about Fall (which they’ve been learning about ad nauseam at preschool). “Yes, that means it’s autumn,” I told him, almost automatically.
We’ve been in the US five months now, and while there are some American words I’ve picked up pretty quickly, there are some words I still can’t bring myself to say. Fall is one of them. OK, I’m happy to talk about the ‘fall foliage’ or ‘fall colours’ we’ve just been to see in New England, because that seems, appropriate for here. But to me, this season is autumn and I refuse to stop saying so. (And what by the way, is the American for Autumnal? Fall-ish? )
I can’t bring myself, either, to ask my new friends what good new ‘movies’ they’ve seen recently, or, even worse, describe a trip to the ‘movie theatre’ with the boys. It’s cinema, OK, and a film? And filling the car up at a gas station? Sorry. I just can’t stop myself saying ‘the petrol station’, no matter what weird looks I get from people.
There are some American terms I am quite happy to use when asking Americans about something, but can somehow never apply to myself. I will ask people how their ‘vacation’ was but will always talk about ourselves as ‘going on holiday’. And my boys are still going out in the ‘garden’ to play, never the ‘backyard’.
There are, admittedly, some words which sound better over here. For example, it seemed far more appropriate to go trick or treating in our suburban American street for Halloween candy. I don’t even like the word ‘sweets’. (Although it still seems odd to be referring to something like a KitKat as candy; surely that’s a chocolate bar?) And I’ve come round slowly, after initial resistance, to cookies versus biscuits. After all, in the land of Cookie Monster, what else should we be eating? And you just can’t ask for anything other than fries in an American restaurant (although the boys still try to order ‘chips and ketchup’, much to waiters’ bemusement).
But there are some words I’ve been forced to adopt: for example, I’ve had to drop my use of the very British verb ‘to queue’. This is particularly irksome because queuing has been a major feature of our first months here: at the Social Security Office, the Department for Motor Vehicles, and so forth, so it comes up quite a lot in conversation. The first couple of times I used it, on a neighbour, she looked at me as if I was completely mad. “Oh,” it dawned on her eventually. “You mean standing in line?”
And I’m trying desperately to exchange ‘pavement’ for ‘sidewalk’, or I’ll be thought of as a really bad mother. Because here, when I tell the boys to ‘get back on the pavement,” I’m actually telling them to stand on the road……….
When I first moved to the UK, I resolved to keep talking in my native language, if only to annoy people. Seven years on, I speak so much like a native that many people, when meeting me for the first time, don’t immediately cotton on to the fact that I am American. This is not, I hasten to add, because of a change in my accent; it is due to my vocabulary.
Sorted, knackered, blimey, chuffed—I embrace them all; I've even been known to stop at a petrol station from time to time. But there remain a few Americanism that, along with my New York accent, continue to give me away:
- The automobile, to me, has always had and always will have a trunk and a hood. I’ll refer to “car boot sales” but the wares are sold out of the car’s trunk.
- Oddly, even though I don’t mean to, I tend to revert to “dollars and cents” when discussing prices. Except, of course, if I’m referring to prices in the US, then I say “pounds and pence.” I put it down to an age thing.
- Portable heaters use kerosene, not paraffin. Paraffin is what you make candles out of.
- In my view, we have a “checking” account at our bank, even though my wife insists it is a “current” account.
- Let’s keep it simple; it is LAST and FIRST names. Whenever I’m asked for my surname I’m always tempted to say, “Galahad!”
And, like Nappy Valley Girl, the sidewalk/pavement issue continues to baffle me.
Anyone have any they’d like to add?
22 hours ago