When I announced to my friends and family that I would be giving up my teaching job in Oman to get married and move to England I didn’t receive the positive, supportive response I had hoped for. They responded with everything from “You can’t take Emily away! She loves her school!” to “You’ve never been to England!”
And, my personal favorite was from a British colleague who responded with a very puzzled look on her face with “Why?” when I shared my joy of becoming engaged and moving to England. She then gave me her blessing which was, “You do realize the weather is HORRIBLE over there?”
Getting married and moving are quite stressful experiences in their own, but getting married, uprooting your child (again) and moving to a country where you’ve never been, some might say, is a bit more stressful.
Not for me though.
I mean, how hard could it really be living in a country where the native language is English? (Or, so I thought.) Didn’t I uproot my perfectly happy and content eight year-old two years prior and move to the Middle East? This would be a walk in the park in comparison.
Then we arrived, and the culture shock set in. More so than when we had arrived in Oman. I tried to decode British English, but there were so many more differences than I had ever imagined. I quickly learned that “dinner” was served as the afternoon meal and “tea” was an early evening meal.
“Tea” was also referred to as simply afternoon tea, and sometimes when I was invited to a friend’s home for tea I wasn’t sure which to expect!
It didn’t take me long to realize there were countless language differences, some I’ve adoptedand others I haven’t. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use the word “trousers”, which refers to what we in America call “pants”. But, if I use the word “pants” here, everybody thinks I’m referring to underwear!
As usual, Emily adjusted very quickly, and after only two months she sounded like she had lived here her entire life. She often corrects my pronunciation of words and use of American vocabulary. “It’s not SAAAAX, mum! It’s SOOOOCKS!” and “It’s not ALLLLIE, mum ! It’s OOOOLLIE!” Emily says this with what I consider a very thick British accent.
The difference between British and American English is vast. I could spend hours writing about nappies (diapers), fringe (bangs), plastic wrap (Saran wrap), boot (trunk of the car), bonnet (hood of the car), dumby (pacifier), rubbish (garbage), swimming costume (swimsuit), toilets (bathrooms), out on the piss (going out drinking) and my favorite: takin’ the mick (making fun of someone).
When I speak or see my American friends and family I have to consciously “Americanize” my way of speaking. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t realized that I was doing this until I recently visited an American friend.
She lives here, in England, and she pointed out that when she spoke to her mom, who was visiting for three months, she had to switch her brain from “British” to “American”. “Oh yeah”, I thought. I have been doing the same without even realizing it!
Now, two and one half years later, Emily not only speaks like a Brit, but considers herself more British than American (this first became obvious during the World Cup when I asked if “we were voting for America” and she retorted with, “First of all, you don’t vote. And secondly, no, I’m supporting England.”)
Regardless of who’s British or American in our family, and if we change our 19-month old’s “nappy” or “diaper”, England is our home.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Jen Warren of England in the United Kingdom. You can also find her on her blog at Children of Chorizo.
Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/scraplab/3839518420/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.
Great post! And all so true 🙂
Growing up in Norway all though we learn “British English” in school I probably learned most of my English from telly watching Falcon Crest, Dynasty, Cosby Show, Cheers (my personal favourite) and many more, so naturally most Norwegians speak “American English” – and I never really though about the difference until my husband horrified pointed out that I spoke “American”!! (He is English if you hadn’t guessed…) So after several helpful comments from friends and family in England I started speaking proper English…
On holiday in Hawaii a few years ago I was in a supermarket, a huge one, and I had to ask a guy for the “biscuit aisle”… and he didn’t know what I ment!!!
I can totally relate to this. There are so many variations of the same English. We have Brit English in schools here, but in TV and generally, today’s teenage generation speak in American English and people of the previous generation speak in ‘Indian’ version of English. lol… 🙂
P.S: Check the link of you blog, “Children of Chorizo”. Its mis-linked.
Thanks for letting us know! I just fixed the link! 🙂
Jen, this is gorgeous. I had a similar experience when I spent four years in Britain. Kiwi English is also another distinct variation, even between here and Australia there are differences…in NZ durex is a type of condom, in Aussie it’s cellotape/sticky-tape!
Oh, this is so familiar to me too! Our first child was a baby when we moved to the US for a few years. We said diaper when we were out, but nappy at home – it was a bit like she was growing up bilingual! When she was three, a friend took her out for lunch and a waitress asked whether she would like ketchup on her fries. Luckily, our friend knew us well enough to translate and ask “Would you like tomato sauce on your chips?” – much to others’ amusement.
Even now I’ve been home longer than I was away, I’m never sure whether to say stroller or buggy or pushchair…
Beautiful post….great highlights of the language differences between US and UK. I could write a similar post about Indian English, which I am certain is a mixture of British and American, with a few Indianized English words added in for good measure.
I like this post — it is a good reflection of World Moms Blog, too, because we post in all different geographical versions of English!
I love tea, the beverage. That word “tea” always confuses me, too, when in England! I find myself saying different words to my husband, who is British, and my daughter. My daughter likes to point out and laugh at how silly Daddy says “tomatoes”!
Veronica Samuels 🙂
Oh, I can so totally relate to this, as a South African-born Canadian! In South Africa, they talk and spell like Brits. In Canada, they spell like Brits but talk like Americans. I’ve been made fun of not only for the words I still slip into using (petrol instead of gas, lorry instead of truck, chips instead of fries, crisps instead of chips, soft drink instead of pop or soda) but for the way I pronounce them (vitamins, zebra, banana). My hubby says I have a speech impediment LOL!
Thank you for all of your comments, I’ve only sat down for the first time today (@ 8pm) so I apologize for not being able to respond to each of you individually. What a diverse, interesting bunch of hot mama’s we are though!! I’m so happy to be part of this experience!
Great post! Love that Emily has a full fledged British accent! 🙂
I love this post, as I absolutely love to listen to British English! I am American, and I have a Canadian friend who speaks with occasional British English word choices, and I could just eat her up. My husband also spent some time in England for work and I made him walk me through every verbal detail of collaborating with his British colleagues. I am just fascinated by the variations.
What a fabulous post! I could hear your British accent all the way through! My dad did a sabbatical in England when I younger and loved learning my new lingo. My favorite was “dummy” and “jumper.” Looking forward to reading more; it sounds like you’ve had some great adventures!
Very cool! I love hearing the differences in English dialects 🙂
Great post! My husband is British and before we met I lived in Brighton for a year, so I can definitely relate. We now seem to speak in a weird hybrid of English – to British ears, he sounds very American and apparently I sound quite British. When I’m with my in-laws or UK friends, I instantly switch my vocabulary without even thinking about it. Though they use some British terms, our kids definitely have an American accent (despite having an Australian teacher and friends from all over). I find it all really fascinating!
I love this! Its so cool to see the differences between two worlds which sometimes seems so similar. Thanks for sharing!