When we first learned that we may be heading overseas, we thought moving to England would be an easier option than moving to, say, Germany or Belgium, both of which were possible options at one time or another.
In England, we said, at least we don’t have to learn a new language. It will be easier, we said. Even when everything else is different, at least we’ll understand what people are saying, we said.
Except, you know, the ten times a day when we don’t.
For instance, people here call pants “trousers”. Pants, it turns out, are underwear. So if you say you’ve spilled something on your pants, people will look at you funny.
Sweaters are jumpers. Jumpers are pinnys, or pinafores, if you’re being formal.
Here, cleats are boots. Sneakers are trainers. Uniforms are kits. Rain jackets are called “cagoules”. I had to ask the Deputy Headmaster (aka Assistant Principal) how to say that last one. I still can’t use it in actual conversation because I secretly think it may not be a real word.
The children, when they go outside to play, are not in the yard, they’re in the garden. Garden refers to the whole area, not just the parts full of plants and flowers.
I was prepared to call elevators lifts and trucks lorries. I was aware that I’d be corrected for saying soccer instead of football. I was ready to call french fries chips and chips crisps and cookies biscuits.
I was not ready to get a homework assignment from school that instructed Gabe to “revise” the information on a sheet, then learn that revise actually means review and learn for a quiz. It does NOT mean to edit or re-write the information correctly. Thankfully we sorted that out before he actually completed the assignment.
Bangs are not bangs, they’re fringe. Bangs here are loud noises (or you’re mistaken for having referred to the less appropriate “banging”, which is a similar slang term in America, but not one we’d ever get mixed up with a hair style).
Zucchini are courgettes (with a soft “g” sound, in case you read that the way I thought it should be pronounced the first dozen times I saw it). Cilantro is coriander. Ground beef is beef mince. Shrimp are prawns. Pudding, as far as I can tell, is a general term that can refer to any dessert, whether it’s cake or pie or actual custard-like pudding. Or, pudding can be non-dessert as well, as in blood pudding (which is eaten with breakfast and looks like some kind of very dark sausage), or Yorkshire pudding, which is actually a kind of popover covered in beef gravy and is nothing like a dessert at all. This may explain why grocery shopping was especially stressful when we first arrived.
Just last week, Gabe was invited to go play at a friend’s house after school. The young man’s mum (with a “U” not an “O”) asked if G would like to stay for tea. I had to ask if she could clarify, because it seemed fairly clear from the context that tea did not, in fact, mean actually drinking tea, and it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that term and thought it probably didn’t mean what I thought it should mean. She explained that it really refers to a sort of early dinner, often for children. In that case, I said, Gabe would love to stay for tea (since he wouldn’t actually have to drink tea, which is not his favorite).
We definitely make mistakes. We ask lots of clarifying questions. We’re learning though. Every day I think I integrate some new term into my vocabulary, to varying degrees of success.
But I will argue to my last day with anyone who says the Brits and Americans speak the same language. It may all be English, but it’s definitely not the same language.