Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Language Barrier


Everyone's probably heard the phrase "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I'm certainly finding it true. Not only do English and American people use different words and different expressions, I think their whole manner of speaking is fundamentally different. In America, one speaks to get a point across quickly; for instance, when telling a funny story one will use exaggeration to prove how funny/absurd the situation was. Or when explaining something, one speaks quickly and directly, economizing words.

But in England, there is no such rush in language. People talk to talk. The funniest things here are asking directions and saying goodbye. Most of the English people Ryan and I have come across seem to love to give directions. They'll think as they talk, explaining a particularly good route, then doubting themselves, they'll say "no, no, go this way instead..." and explain one or two more routes. Also hilarious is saying goodbye, particularly our landlord. After concluding a 5 second phone conversation "we need more money on the gas card" for instance, he'll end by saying "Alright? Alright. Cheers, mate, cheers. Bye. Goodbye, cheers, bye." Seriously.

In general, the English are more courteous. I notice this a lot at work. When I tell someone their total, they'll say thank you or cheers (or sometimes both). I'll make change and hand them their receipt, they'll usually thank me again, tell me "cheers", "take care", or my favorite: "bless you, dear." They are also quick to slather the compliments, calling me "lovely", "darling", "dear", "love", etc. Or telling me that my ringing up of their items was "brilliant" or "lovely." Not bad really.

There is one thing that always catches me off guard, though. At my work, all the employees tend to say "Are you alright?" in a tone that makes one think they've just walked out of the ladies' room with mascara streaks running down one's face. They actually mean "how are you?" but it still takes me a second to respond appropriately.

Many of the customers ask me if I'm Canadian. I think a lot of them have a perception of Americans speaking with a New York, Boston, or Minnesotan accent. It doesn't bother me, really. I don't have anything against Canada. But they are very embarrassed when I correct them. I'm kind of amazed when they pick up on the accent when I say like 5 words to most of them. It's probably the "cheers" that gives me away. British pronunciation: chee-as, American: cheeeee-uhrs.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Thanks for writing this.