Sunday, January 16, 2011

Going Native

In last week's discussion we appeared almost to have "switched sides" with Toni giving the American point of view and Mike being a tad more British. What's going on here? Have we both gone over to the dark side?


Since my shtick is all about being an expat, it is in my best interests to maintain my Americanisms. I have to admit, however, that after nine years here, a fair amount of osmosis has taken place, both the leaking out of my natural American traits and the absorption of British replacements.

Here is a short list:

Tea: In the States, I used to buy a 24-pack of herbal tea every 5 years or so. Now I drink at least one cup of good, British tea every day. Not as much as the indigenous population, perhaps, but it’s a lot more than I used to drink.

Speech: I have not acquired a British accent, nor do I ever hope to, but my choice of words makes me blend into the conversation smoothly enough that now, people who are meeting me for the first time, often go 10 to 15 minutes before asking, “Are you Canadian?”

Sports: I have, to my great surprise, developed an appreciation for football (and by which I mean soccer—how British is that?) and cricket.

Activities: I belong to The National Trust and enjoy wandering around the many fabulous gardens on display throughout the country. (That is not only very, very British, but for an American, it is also suspiciously, um, well, you know.)

Weather: I complain about it on a par with the locals. And I’ve also stopped comparing it with “weather back home.” If it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit here with 5 inches of snow, I don’t care if New York is -17 with 3 feet of snow, I am cold, and I am inconvenienced, and I am going to moan about it! I do, however, continue to say, “SKED u el” instead of “SHED u al,” drop the “H” in herb and refuse to add superfluous syllables to “aluminum,” so my American-ness is safe for the time being.


Even after 20 years here, most people tell me I haven't aquired the accent nor have I ever been mistaken for a Canuk. (Sometimes I'm asked if I'm Irish or Australian, but that's just because Americans are hearing an English speaker with no discernible American accent.)  However, I must confess to having adopted some of the natives' habits.

Language: I dropped "lift", "nappy" and "(car) bonnet" a long time ago in favo(u)r of "elevator", "diaper" and "hood". I mean, there's sticking to your Britishness and just plain silliness. No one understands the British words.  I have resisted the ubiquitous "Have a nice day" but sometimes find myself throwing out "How are you?" and walking straight by without waiting for an answer. I used to think this very odd, but it's just used as a greeting here in the mid west. I'm very proud that when someone asks me the question, I manage to shout "Fine thanks, how are you?" even if the other person is fifty yards down the street and round the corner.
 I'm learning.

Dining: - It's not so much the food that I've adopted; I mean green bean casseroles, (oops, sorry) Sloppy Joes and syrup all over your breakfast? I have become truly American in my expectations when eating out. I want a waiter to come to my table almost as soon as I'm seated, take my drink order and tell me about the specials. I don't want to wait over half an hour for my meal and I don't want it to come out before of after my fellow diners. If you give me something other than my order, I won't eat it just because it'd be a lot of trouble to get my desired meal (no matter how much this embarrasses my mother), and if it's not hot I will ask you to heat it up. Not too much to ask really, but you'd be surprised how "pushy" that still seems in the UK sometimes.

I'm not the only one to let a few American habits creep in though. Iota, who blogs at the Iota Quota, is a Brit who's been in the States for four years. She says "Oh, I do usually use my knife and fork in the American way, now, ie. chopping up all the food, putting the knife down, transferring the fork into my right hand and using it like a shovel. I have NO idea why I do that, since I really really don't like it, and am trying to bring my kids up with English table manners. When I'm telling them about their manners, I surreptitiously have to put my fork back into my left hand, and pick up my knife in my right before demonstrating. Could it be that it's actually easier to use them the American way?

Other habits - I definitely say "Have a nice day" - I really like that. Seems friendlier than the English "good bye", and MUCH BETTER than "see you later". Sadly, I have noticed that I have occasionally started saying "Could I get...?" instead of "Please may I have...?" That is one I am stamping on.

Emma K, A Brit in Baltimore who blogs at Mommy Has A Headache, recently blogged thus - "I must say when I lived in the UK even when I lived alone showering was not a daily occurrence, mainly because it tends to be freezing of a morning. But now I am here I shower daily sometimes twice but that is because it is pretty hot and I sweat a lot."

Or could it just be a question of going native I wonder?

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  1. Yes, I agree Toni, I find it frustrating to have to wait for a waiter when back in England. But I don't think I agree about the food for people at the same table coming at different times. I've found that happens here a lot - more than in England (is that just the rosy-tinted specs?) I can't bear it when they bring one or two desserts, while some people in the party are still eating their first course. That really annoys me.

  2. You're right, it does seem to happen more here and it drives me nuts so much so that years ago, I asked them to hold my meal until everyone else's was ready. I don't like it when it happens in England either, altho' it's less often. Still causes embarrassment if I say anything tho. :-)

  3. Well I gave this some thought after you emailed me but nothing sprung to mind, but then I am once again using all brain cells to churn out daily bog posts!

    Now I have been prompted I can think of the following: I have reverted to trash can not bin anymore, I wish everyone a nice day and I now almost enjoy Football!

  4. Couldn't ever call it a Freudian slip Sarah! But my how I laughed - once I'd realised your typo. Didn't even see it first time around. Sigh!

  5. Even twenty years after returning from living in the U.K., I still eat like a Brit. Fork in left hand, tines facing right-side down and never leaving that hand. It's such an efficient way to eat.

    There are a few words I used that have never left me, "peckish" for instance always results in a "What?" I have never stopped saying "as well" in the place of "too" which is commonly used in these parts to my annoyance. Besides that, it's things like pronouncing English county names properly with a "sheer" or "sher" instead of the American "shy-er." I usually have to explain that one.

    You've done well Toni with the "How are you?". You seem to have the whole thing down including not waiting for the person to respond before you move on. I've always made it a point to try and ask "How are you?" back, otherwise it seems rude or uncaring, even though we really couldn't care less at the end of the day. Nothing like polite dis-ingeniousness.

  6. 'suspiciously, um, well, you know"? Well, I don't, perhaps you could explain.

  7. I've definitely altered my speech when talking to Americans - vacation, garbage, "I'm good' rather than "I'm fine, thanks". But the Brit word does slip out that baffles people eg. 'palaver'.

    I do like the service culture here but it doesn't extend to everything - I never get offered a cup of coffee and biscuit (sorry, cookie) in the hairdresser's as I would in London!

  8. 'suspiciously, um, well, you know"? Anon, I dont know for certain either, but it sounds snidely homophobic to me.

  9. Sparkle, it's just the casual contempt some people have for gay folk that makes me so mad I could spit. Mike's little 'joke' was so instinctual he probably didn't even notice it's sniggering tone. I wonder if he would have made the same remark with black people as the target?

  10. Sorry to disappoint, but my remark was a piss-take of the sort of people who think that enjoying a beautiful garden somehow makes you less manly.

  11. Lol! It's not just the Machismo Morons who have issues; there are plenty of people here who think anyone who actually likes wandering through gardens, museums, natural or historic interest, etc, is in desperate need of a personality and a life. I got referred to a guidance counselor once for it. One of the things I loved about the UK was that the people I met seemed to think you might be a bit dull if you DIDN'T go for anything at all like that.

  12. Sparkle and Serendippy - not sure what type of blogs you normally read but please credit Mike and I with a little more sensitivity, tolerance and intelligence. If he were someone who a) thought like that, and b) actually wrote it in a blog, I can promise that I wouldn't be hosting a blog with him.
    As it is, his sense of humour is dry and wry, and takes a certain level of wit and observationalism (new word) to appreciate.

  13. Sometimes I just give up, I really do. Sigh!

  14. I have found myself picking up British-isms (I guess that is what I would call them), but my kids are going to have the hardest time when we return to the states. Both my daughters pronounce the letter "h" "hay-ch", call me mum, announce time as "half 6" as opposed to 6:30 amongst other things. I am sure they will sort themselves out when we get back though.

  15. I've always thought it was so cool, the way Brits use their knives to herd peas onto the back of their fork. And if we could live any length of time in the UK, I would definitely hope that I could acquire a manor house accent and that my husband would acquire a Scottish accent. :-)

  16. Cranberry Morning - I get strange looks for herding my peas on the back of my fork. ;-)

    Snoozepossum - I completely agree and as for getting a life, you mean one with countless hours wasted on the sofa playing video games, watching trashy reality TV or hours of football? That life? No thanks, I'll take a stroll in the park any day.

  17. Smitten - I would think that anyone would realize that it's much tackier to get rude with someone just because they do something a little differently than it is to not conform on small things that affect no one but yourself. Go figure. (goes back to pea physics experiments)

  18. Am I the only one who is ending up more English than when they left? I certainly think my accent is a little more...well, Derek Nimmo-ish, than previously. Any northern inflections or word choices have been subconciously smoothed out as it was those that threw Americans. If you sound more like Harry Potter or James Bond they seem to understand you a bit more.

  19. Oh dear, I'm obviously not a proper Brit at all as I can't stand tea (the English sort), have no interest in gardening, museums or stately homes, and eat whichever way is more convenient for the particular meal (fork in right hand, tines up, for peas or curry etc; British style for steak, for example).

    I have never said "please may I have..." even as a child, as it always reminded me of the sort of child who appeared in very worthy children's books, who wore dresses, had pigtails and never got muddy. I'd say "please can I have...", although "please could I get..." sounds fine to me too, as long as it has the 'please'.

    Do they really bring out meals at different times in the States? For a country whose service industry is in many ways much better than ours, that's dreadful!

  20. I found it easier to drop some Americanisms and collect some Britishisms (?!) just to be understood a bit better as you say Toni (i.e. I use nappy, not diaper). And I have changed the way I pronounce some words simply because I get sick of people repeating what I say in a weird John Wayne accent: 'or-eh-GAHN-o!' (oregano) or because I eventually thought they sounded weird too (dropping the 'h' from herb?! Why?). But I have remained steadfastly true to other words like 'garage' and 'bath'.

    I like sounding mid-atlantic. ;)

  21. I've dropped an awful lot of linguistic Britishisms in favor of their American counterpart. It started with the embarrassment of once trying to order frozen yogurt and the lady behind the counter found the way I said yogurt so uncontrollably hilarious she called over a work colleague just to make me say it again.

    My wife has taken on board several British pronunciations from me, including "bananas" which when mixed with a slightly southern lilt sounds incredibly bizarre.

  22. The blog is very good!

  23. Bananas with a southern accent? Hmmm - will ask my mother-in-law to try that one! My 7 y/o occasionally says 'bananas' the English way then catches himself half (haff) way through and gives it the old American twang!


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