Thursday, 6 June 2013

Expat Diaries - Three things I say incorrectly

When I moved from the UK to the USA one of the things I made sure to do was change my default language on my computer from English (UK) to English (USA). It's helped a lot with writing: cover letters, resumes, blog posts, and all the copy I write now as part of my job.

It's rare that I slip up and put organisation instead of organization, or defence instead of defense, but if I do then the red dotted lines warn me that I've gone all continental.

However, I do still slip up all the time when I speak. And sometimes, after trying to maintain my British identity, I have to give in and use an American phrase because people genuinely don't seem to know what I'm talking about. That bewilders me, as an English speaking person in an English speaking country!

So for the most part, my Americanisms are deliberate and considered efforts to make myself understood in this brash and assertive country. However, sometimes I doubly slip up, and accidentally use Americanisms with my British friends. Then I get accused of forgetting my Britishness, so I can't win in either instance!

Here are a few simple, unassuming phrases that I've caught myself saying, that make me think "Wow, I really am American now…"


"We got this in the mail"

Brits use the word "mail" for sure, usually in the context of it being "Royal" and constantly in danger of getting privatized (or privatised, depending where you are). But Brits don't generally say "I'll get the mail" or "Give this to the mailman" - it's post, and postman. There's even a popular kids' cartoon in the UK, Postman Pat.

Strangely enough though, Americans do use "Post Office" and "Postal Service". But if I try to say "I'll get the post" here in the USA, I think Americans expect me to return with a large wooden stake instead.

"Can you put this in the trash for me?"

Again, this is such an innocuous phrase,  it shouldn't be a big deal. But nobody in the UK genuinely says trash. It's rubbish, or garbage. I love the word rubbish especially. It's a great insult because it's also a bit pathetic. Next time you're having an argument, slip in the phrase "You're a rubbish person!" and you'll probably have to stop yourself from giggling afterwards.  Call somebody trashy and you're in a world of trouble.

See also trash can v rubbish bin. I find the phrase rubbish bin kind of quaint now - if that doesn't mean I'm Americanized I don't what does.

Brits don't quite get the "Supersize" thing either

"Can I get…?"

This one happened to me a long time ago actually, even before I moved over. It's an affectation used by many Brits who want to appear assertive when ordering their coffee and Subway sandwiches.

Being able to customize something so simple as coffee and fast food goes against everything a Brit knows. 

It's why Burger King's "have it your way" slogan was a flop in the UK. Brits don't want to have to request extra cheese or no lettuce, they want what's given to them. If they don't like cheese, they'll take it out themselves instead of appearing rude or fussy. 

When Subway arrived in the UK Brits were practically having meltdowns when barraged with a bunch of questions even just about their bread. "I'll have j-just w-whatever it comes with…" customers would panic. The server would have to explain that the poor Brit was actually in command of their own lunch, and they would have to review choices under pressure of holding up the line (queue). Due to the stress and confusion they'd end up with some bizarre combination of tuna, ham, raw onion and salt on their Subway.

In the world of fast food and fast coffee, courtesies such as "Please may I have…" or "Would it be possible if…" or "Do you think you could possibly, if it's not too much trouble, please…" are about five seconds too long to cut it. So "Can I get" becomes the go-to "I know exactly what I want on my cold lunch and in my hot drink and I'm important so get it for me" power phrase. 

Whenever I hear myself loudly proclaim "Can I get an untoasted six-inch BMT?" I know I've made it as a self-assured American…until I follow it up with "on just whatever bread you have to hand, what's ever easiest for you, I don't want to cause too much trouble, sorry, if that's not too much to ask…"



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