Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Language Barrier: Thirsty Work

  Since I’ve been living in America,  people back home are always asking me how I’m getting on. When I’ve gone through the litany of loving Western New York’s quieter pace of life, the wild flowers, the scenery, the abundant animals gorging on my garden and my wonderful American friends, my usual answer is, “Fine – apart from the language barrier.”  This raises a few laughs -  “two nations divided by a common language” and all that. The thing is, though, it’s true.

  And the longer I live in America, the more I see how true it is.

      The subtle differences between British and American go far beyond “pavement” and “sidewalk”, “handbag” and “purse”, “biscuit” and “cookie”, “angry” and “mad” and so on.

Take the simple matter of pronunciation. They’re just not used to hearing English spoken around here – since the only British tourists in this neck of the woods are likely to be staying with us. So they expect everyone to be American – and speak American.

Virtually every time I’m in a local restaurant and I ask for “water” I get blank looks from the waitress – sorry, from the server.

The same thing happened on an internal Jet Blue flight. You'd think the flight attendant would have heard English at some time in her life but no. I was gasping for a drink of water but every time I said "Water", louder and with increasing desperation,  her expression got more puzzled. "Water!!!!" I pleaded, thinking this was all some kind of Kafka-esque joke.  Eventually she turned to hubby and giving me a suspicious look, hissed conspiratorially,  “What did she say?” Hubby interpreted. “Ah” came the realisation,“Wahhdurrr!”

   It’s a steep learning curve – but there is something I can do.  I don’t know why I never thought about it before. I’ve studied some foreign languages in my life. Well, I just need to learn American.  I’ve already found myself saying “garbage” and “sKedule” when I just have to be understood.  But I still can’t seem to get my tongue around  “Wahdurr.”

1 comment:

  1. I heard of a Brit who decided, when eating out at a West Coast diner, to finish his meal with "just a banana, please". Cue megatons of Anglo-Yanklo misunderstanding, only resolved when it was realised that all the hapless customer wanted was a bun-NAIR-na. Interesting to think that English in England has changed less since Shakespeare, than in America since about 1900 - 'huddles masses' time