Monday, August 26, 2013

You Say Tomato...

Hello, all! Thank you for the lovely supportive comments on last week's blog post!

It's a Bank Holiday Monday here, the 'hood is alive with the sounds (and rubbish) of Notting Hill Carnival, and I'm on my way out the door. So I'm pleased to hand over the blog to the wonderful Laura Pepper Wu today. Take it away, Laura!

You say tomato, I say tomato. You say eggplant, I say WTH?!


 As a Brit living in Seattle, I love reading Talli’s blog and hearing all about the happenings “back home”, and of course her perspective on them as a Canadian in the UK!


When you move to a country other than the one you grew up in, you expect culture and language differences to hit you almost immediately. And they do; I say rocket, you say arugula, I say duvet you say comforter, and so on.

There are plenty of subtle things that creep up on you only as time goes by however. The longer I’m here in the US, the more I realise that there are a myriad of social and cultural differences that are harder to spot. Though we speak a common language, the US and UK have different ways of socialising, making friends, interacting, humour, and what’s ok - and what’s not ok to talk about or do can be contrasting, too.

It takes some analysis to understand why a conversation bombed, why you felt totally misunderstood, or why you were left feeling as though you just did something utterly inappropriate and awkward! But it’s all part of the fun of traveling or living overseas, right? Entering my fourth year living in North America, here are the language differences that I’ve come to understand of late!


The British use of negatives to describe something positive

-       The other day the nice man at the smoothie bar asked me how my day was going - in typical West Coast friendliness – and I replied cheerfully “Not bad, thanks!” This was met with lots of laughter. As he filtered strawberries and banana into the blender, he periodically threw his head back to giggle, saying under his breath, “not bad, not bad!” I felt a little flummoxed by this until I read recently that Brits are infamous for using a negative to describe something positive. Case in point: That Talli is awfully nice, isn’t she?

Calling me out

-       A few years ago, I asked a new acquaintance “What is your son called?” She asked me to repeat the question several times, and then looked a little peeved as she responded, with a wee bit of attitude, “you mean his name?”

I sort of forgot about this incident until a couple of weeks ago when a friend asked me where I had just come from. “Oh I was just having coffee with this woman called Liz…” I started. “What did you just say?!” she laughed, going on to explain that in US English, using the term “to call someone” is pretty rude. Rather, Americans might say  “I was having coffee with this woman named Liz…” I cannot tell you how many times I must have said or written this over the last few years. Holy shitake.

What’s in a name?

-       In the UK, you could have a lengthy conversation with a strange in a pub, or sit next to someone on a train or plane for hours without ever exchanging names. You might know the man down the street as ‘the bloke with the red car’, even though you say hi to him every morning!

In the US, names seem to be much more important – people often introduce themselves as soon as you meet them, even if you’re likely only to be talking for a few minutes and may never see them again. It’s just not that important to us Brits to be so name-aware – or at least we have a different sense of privacy than in the US where greetings are often accompanied by revealing your identity.

I know that readers of Talli’s blog are from the US, Canada, UK, Oz… and we speak all kinds of le English! I’d love to hear your stories about times you felt completely awkward or embarrassed when using a kind of English that wasn’t familiar to the other person… and the consequences of course! Leave a comment J


Laura Pepper Wu is Editor at The Write Life Magazine. She grew up in the UK before spending 3.5 years in Japan, and the last 3.5 years in the US. She loves culture, travel, and exploring Seattle’s best coffee shops! Find out more about her and the lifestyle magazine for writers – The Write Life Magazine – at www.thewritelifemagazine.com. The digital magazine is available for free download from the App Store now.  Say hi on Twitter @LauraPepWu!

Thank you, Laura. Have a great week, all!

40 comments:

  1. Wow, I would have never thought there was such importance placed on using "named" rather than "called."

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    1. It took me by surprise, too :) Good to know, though!

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  2. My favourite is a nice American boy asking me for some "white out". He meant tippex of course but I didn't know that and neither did he so we had one of these awkward very pregnant pauses...

    :-) Take care
    x

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    1. I don't think I knew that one yet! Using brand names is an interesting one (which tippex is of course). Others = hoover (UK) band aid (US), and my favourite of all time, Q-tips! (cotton buds)

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  3. As an American who moved to Scotland 12 years ago, I can relate. I still run into little quirks of language that confuse me, but I've adapted my language to suit both places as much as possible and try to avoid words that would be misunderstood. It takes quite the effort, though!

    I will say that the whole 'called' thing isn't that Americans think it's rude, exactly, so much as it implies that Liz isn't your friend's real name, but you call her that anyway. So people would think: Why do you call her Liz if that isn't her name? LOL

    I remember using the phrase "sweat pants" exactly one time when I first moved here. That certainly got me some looks!

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    1. India, that's good to know! I like that explanation. Still learning over here! Thanks :) xo

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  4. Interesting post. Little things can have a big impact if you aren't careful.

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  5. hahaha...Keep your pecker up UK: remain cheerful. US: !!!!!!! says it all.

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  6. My parents emigrated from Scotland to Canada and I grew up saying all kinds of things where people would give me those blank looks! :) We do the 'not bad' as well :)

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    1. Funny to see how it passes down the generations. I have a friend from Texas whose Mother is British, and he always says "I'll give you a ring" (not 'I'll call you!) I wonder how that goes down in TX.

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  7. I would certainly do better in England because I can never remember names!

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    1. Haha, love it! I'm getting better at memory association, I think. I met someone called (named?!) Sage this weekend and I kept thinking of the 'sage and onion' stuffing we used to eat for Sunday lunch. Hopefully I don't call him onion next time! :)

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  8. I was not aware of ' Called' and 'named'. Since Indians follow UK English, may be we can well understand you.

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    1. Hi Shalet, I think it's good to know international English these days, at least be somewhat aware of the differences, so that one can communicate everywhere :) Any unique Indian English you can share with us? :)

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  9. The Write Life Magazine, sounds interesting, thanks for that.

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  10. Too funny! I use the term "not bad" and "awfully nice" and I'm US born and raised...Long ago a roommate's boyfriend - from Columbia - heard us say oops when we made mistakes or spilled something. One day he asked, "What is this oops?"

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    1. Oopsie daisie! Haha. Oh that's interesting, Bish! I suppose it's very regional and things creep in to the language through media and so on. I have a friend whose young son does a great British accent because he's obsessed with Harry Potter!

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  11. I live in Mexico now and I can tell you that my U.S. humor is NOT appreciated. Add to that I'm from New York, and well...I might as well slap people here.It would hurt them less. Also here, if you meet someone and want to know their name you say "Como se llama?" which means, what are you called? But when you introduce yourself, you say,"Mi nombre es" which means my name is... Whenever I hear, "Como se llama," I want to say something, like hmm, what am I called? How about fabulous, witty, wonderful. Obviously I'm learning to keep my comments to myself.

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    1. Interesting. Lol, you sound fabulous and witty, Em! :)

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  12. As a Canadian who uses proper English (with the u in colour as it's supposed to be, for instance), I'm still struck by British words that didn't make the crossing of the Atlantic, such as the boot for the trunk of a car, or the use of the word lorry.

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  13. Hysterical, Laura - I never knew that about 'called'!

    As a teenager I went to stay with some German friends, who spoke very good English with American accents. The father said to me one day: 'what's a bum?'
    Ah, er, how would I explain? Especially being 14 and easily embarrassed. I began to explain about slang words for 'bottom' and my host looked bemused.
    'There was this guy on our ski holiday who had a T-shirt saying ''I'm a ski bum'',' he said.
    Ah, the American kind of 'bum'. At least he didn't ask about the 5-letter f-word.

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    1. Ha! Oh gosh, the 5-letter f-word is not welcome around here, Roz!

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  14. I'm American but I didn't realize "to call someone" was bad.

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  15. I'm in New Zealand. While we understand both US and Uk English (not rhyming slang) we use quite a lot of Maori words in ordinary speech and also other words which are special to NZ/Australia - so visitors can get a bit flummoxed.

    Like - "we're off to the wop wops this weekend - taking the chilly bin and our jandals with us. Kia kaha"

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    1. Yes, need a translation of this one please Carole ;)

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  16. Very interesting, Laura. My daughter and I have watched a lot of BBC this summer and we often have to interpret the king's English.
    I do know when I'm reading a book I can usually tell right away if the author is British more so than an Aussie.

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  17. I must admit that as an American, there are probably many British terms that would fly right over my head. Speaking of which, I was working on a writing project and used the world "plop" to refer to a drip of water plopping on the ground. That didn't go over so well with a British writer who critiqued it for me and thought I was referring to a "smellier" plop.

    Yeah...didn't go so well. lol!!

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    1. Hahahaha, thanks for making me giggle, Angela!

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  18. I grew up with quite a few friends from the UK so there aren't many things that would make me go, huh? and scratch my head. I've always loved the differences. I had a friend visit me, oh, about 4 years ago from the UK. He was tickled with the expression used here in Missouri, "real quick". I need to get this done real quick and I be right with you...There were a few other phrases but I can't recall them right now. Btw, "not bad" is pretty standard phrase for me, lol!

    Enjoyed your article. :-)

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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  19. How funny! I wouldn't have been offended by the "called" vs. "named," but I would have assumed the person asking meant "What is her nickname?" rather than "What is her name?"

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  20. As a South African living in the United States my first whoosiedoodle was asking my boss if he had a rubber. In the US they are called erasers.... rubbers are condoms. I have had many more 'oy vey' moments.

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  21. I live very far away from UK, yet our English is British English.

    All the best with your new release!

    Hi Talli!

    Nas

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  22. Hi Talli and Laura .. I know Talli did a language idiosyncratic post a couple of years ago comparing words/language ...

    Yours are great .. and I know I have to explain myself sometimes having 'caught' South African terms when I lived there ... for example .. I'll say 'just now' - meaning I'll do it sometime .. could be shortly, could be sometime later or the next day or two .. open ended 'just now' ...

    Cheers - but interesting about the name thing .. and the negative - yes that we do definitely .. Hilary

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  23. It's amazing we manage to communicate at all given all these problems!

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  24. I think every English speaking country is guilty of changing the meaning of words.I will have to check out the magazine.

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  25. Things get really interesting for me. I'm South African, so we supposedly speak British English. But... we're more and more influenced by the US because of music, movies and t.v. Also, the other languages in the country also work their way in, so it can really confuse any other English speaker.

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  26. I laughed so loud at this, I wonder if I woke up my neighbors. Reminded me of Dudley Moore in "10" arguing with Julie Andrews at bedtime over the definition of "broad". "Like dame, skirt, Mal, petticoat, Jane"...how funny! What else? "Shank of the evening" cracks me up too. You've got to go back and see that film, even if it was made in 1979. Great post! :D)

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  27. Hi Talli, hi Laura!
    Its so much fun to laugh at our differences.... I was served on the weekend by a
    Danish girl who asked me for three and a half dollars for a coffee... I giggled... Us Aussies say three fifty.

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Coffee and wine for all!