I have now had the pleasure of living in San Francisco for 3 months, and have experienced a great many times the frustration of either being misunderstood, not being understood at all, or even worse, laughed at for the quirks in my speech. It is unfortunately a testament to the nationalistic focus of many Americans that they don’t understand a very clearly spoken English/Australian accent, because they just don’t hear them very often. Whereas those who grew up outside the US had exposure to a wide variety of foreign accents, mostly through the TV shows we watched while growing up, it seems Americans had enough great local TV shows to bother with the joys (I do joke) of Home & Away and Neighbours as the British did, or the brilliance of The Goodies and Benny Hill as the Australians did.
Anyway, for whatever reason, there are a huge number of British & Australian words and phrases that Americans don’t understand, or think is whimsical. Here is a guide:
This came as quite a shock to me – that American’s don’t use the word ‘whilst’ or ‘amongst’. They use the much less romantic ‘while’ and ‘among’. Apparently, American’s think us Brits/Aussies are quaint for using such anachronistic terms, although they would never use the word ‘quaint’ either, they would say ‘cute’.
Again, an enormous shock to me is that a word which I use so regularly and has such common usage in my life, doesn’t even exist in the US. They would say ‘two weeks’ or ‘bi-weekly’. Which however practical, feels like it loses some yesteryear romance.
You gotta be careful when you order drinks, as what we think of as Lemonade, they call ‘pop’ or ‘soda’ or other terms. If you ask for Lemonade you get what we call ‘Lemon squash’. And conversely, they don’t have ‘lime cordial’ which is a bit of a problem if you want to do tequila shots the way I do: with a chaser of ‘lime cordial’. Instead, I discovered last weekend a solution: mix sugar into a shot glass of raw lime juice, and ta-dah! Drinkable tequila!
Any word with an ‘r’ in it
I find if I get into a taxi or am speaking to a shopkeeper, the simplest request or question I make is received with a look of bewilderment and incomprehension. I repeat, speaking as clearly as I can… and again, the poor individual just doesn’t understand me. At this point, I usually sigh to myself, and repeat what I am trying to say, but I roll my ‘r’s. Suddenly, the clouds part and I am understood. So, Brits/Aussies – when you say words like ‘car’, ‘ear phones’, and ‘Sutter Street’… you will not be understood unless you try really hard to roll the ‘r’.
And you may ask to what degree have Americanisms affected my speech? I spent a bit of time when I first arrived watching The Rachel Zoe Project, and to my surprise, with all sincerity described something exciting as being ‘major’. And I probably rolled the ‘r’ in that word too. And although I cannot bring myself to say it with a straight face, I do love it when Americans describe something crazy as being ‘bananas’ – but pronounced like you’d imagine a big Texan would: ‘banaaaanas’. It does make me giggle with affection’
Oh, and dating vocabulary is unexpectedly different. Whereas Australians would say ‘pash’ and the English ‘snog’, the Americans use the much less onomatopoeic ‘make out’. And dating here is a very casual sounding ‘to hang out’.
Anyway, am sure everyone has their own experiences with Trans Atlantic idioms that have made us chuckle warmly, would love to hear more of them, leave in comments below.