The list on my fridge translating for a baffled Briton in the USA

JHvgmQbd18WDyeaDSydZG2KvbWZ7GFlkQY7QqY81kloStudying abroad is a wonderful, exciting and challenging thing. In this first entry I will to tell you about some of the unexpected challenges that I have faced so far whilst on exchange at the University of California Santa Barbara, in particular with regard to linguistic differences.

We all know that in America there are some minor and downright entertaining language differences. When my roommate is wondering around the flat and blurts out “Oh, I forgot to put my pants on again!” I still find myself chuckling even though I know she is referring to her trousers.

But there are some less well known differences which may catch out the naïve British student like myself. It is for this reason that I keep a list on the fridge door which acts as a translation for my wonderful American flat mates.

If I were to say the words “Biscuits and Gravy” to you, the British imagination likely conjures up a picture of a digestive biccy and a basin of brown sauce, something which is for pouring on roast dinners. Two separate foods stuffs, not for mixing, and not easily mistaken. Yet those same words have very different meanings in America. “Biscuits and Gravy” in California mean a flour based substance, similar to the British scone, covered in a creamy pig fat sauce. Something definitely got lost in translation!

Using the word “fortnight” gave me a giggle. One response I received to dropping this word in a sentence was “Who am I? Shakespeare?!” Others just provided me with random guesses: “Once a lunar cycle” or “Wait, is that 37 days?” In fairness to my American friends, not everyone gets that wrong, but the word “fortnight” certainly isn’t part of everyday vocabulary like it is here.

Going to the supermarket, parking in the car park, grabbing a trolley and queuing to pay is no longer so simple. One goes to the store, parks in the parking lot, takes a cart, and lines up to pay. When reaching the checkout at Tesco or some British equivalent, we pack our own bags. If you do not and have no obvious reason for this omission, then you are likely to walk home with no bag or be thought of as a bit rude. In the US, you usually have to wait for the cashier to do it for you, leaving the poor Brit to twiddle their thumbs and feel rude.  Something that has me squirming every time, even though I know it is custom here.

Clothing is another area I often mess up on. Not only do I have to learn a new size system, but the words aren’t the same, asides from the whole pants/ trousers thing. I complimented a friend on her cute jumper recently only to be told she wasn’t wearing one. Turns out that what we think of as a jumper is actually called a sweater, and the definition of a jumper in California elicits mixed responses. For the most part it is thought of as a playsuit (I think) or a pinafore dress thing. Either way, it is confusing to me!

These minor differences may seem insignificant but after a while they can build up and make a person feel a wee bit homesick! Nonetheless, homesickness is normal when so far away and as cultural differences go, this isn’t so bad. It even provides some pretty entertaining moments!

Alice Lomas is a third year Law with American Studies student and is currently in the USA on the Study Abroad programme at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


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