This oft-used quote has been the basis of this blog from the start, and we like to think we have explored the chasm in a number of ways over the past months. The thing is, once you get past the obvious (elevator = lift, bath is pronounced bahth) you think you pretty much have it sussed. But the separation is, in fact, a bottomless pit, and unless you are a Brit living in the US, or a Yank living in the UK, you can't know how true those words really are.
This week, to satisfy a nostalgic whim, we are looking at some of those things that, even after all this time, still catch us out on a regular basis.
When I moved to Chicago the mid-west accent took me by surprise at first, and led to some hilarious mistakes on my part.
For some reason, Bocci ball (a type of boules) was the rage amongst our friends. Because of the twangy accent here, I thought they were all saying “Bacci” and pronounced it thus, in my English accent. It must’ve sounded really weird – this Brit with the strong English accent suddenly producing a Chicago vowel sound right in the middle of a sentence. When I discovered my mistake (several years later) I cringed at the memory, although no one commented at the time.
The other vowel clanger was when we came to buy our first house here and everyone was talking about the Plat of Survey (otherwise known as the survey plan). “Ah” I thought, “I won’t be caught out with that funny vowel sound again”, and proceeded to refer to the “Plot” of survey thinking that was what they were really saying. It wasn’t until we were sitting in the final closing meeting (exchanging contracts) and I saw the damn thing in front of me, written out in full, that I realized my mistake. Again though, no one said anything and I can only assume they were thinking something like “Crazy Brit”.
More recently, my 6 year old, aware of my slightly different accent, has started compensating for it. His second cousin Luca, is now referred to as Luker (with heavy emphasis on the American “R” ending) because he thinks that’s what I’m really saying. For a long time he also thought “pizza” was really “pizzer” again, because of the way we English pronounce “er” endings. I wonder if he goes around telling everyone that my real name is “Antoni-er.”
Almost everyone, even if they don’t know any expats or watch the British version of The Office, can effuse about the basics: “They call an flashlight a ‘torch’! And a car hood is a ‘bonnet’; isn’t that cute?” And if you have not yet learned about the startling dissimilarity between the British and American use of the word ‘Fanny’ then you deserve whatever social faux pas you perpetrate.
But if you're living in a different culture, once you get past the obvious differences and settle down to the minutia that is daily life, you stop noting every little disparity in the interest of getting on with your day. That doesn't mean they aren't there, it simply means I can't be arsed to point them out:
For example: There are no commercials on British TV, they have adverts. My wife and I don’t go to the movies, we go to the cinema. Going to the theatre may mean going to see a play, or it may mean you are going in for an operation; if you are heading to surgery, however, you are just going to visit your doctor, only it would be you GP.
They do not use scotch tape over here, they use Sellotape (and it’s nowhere near as good). If you wash the dishes you are doing the washing up, and don’t forget your marigolds, which is what they call dishwashing gloves. They have cling film instead of saran wrap and they don’t vacuum, they hoover.
Oddly, a bicycle is called a pushbike to distinguish it from a bike, which is a motorcycle, while we in the States seem unconfused by using bike for both.
You don’t put on your blinker or use your turn signal, you indicate. And if the car in front of you is going too slow and you want to get around it, you overtake. And if you are driving a station wagon, be sure to call it an estate car.
The stuff you throw out is rubbish, not garbage and you put it in a dust bin for the bin men to come and collect. If you have a lot of rubbish, you need a dumpster, which they call a skip.
I could, I am afraid, go on, and on, and on, so I’ll wrap up by advising that, no matter how long you live here (or there) and how bilingual you think you’ve become, you can, and will, continue to be bushwhacked by the language.
Care to share your language experiences?
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or just pop it into the comment box.