18 June 2008

Lost in the Vast Wasteland of Expatriate Nomenclature... (or "WHAT did you say?")

As those of you know, we lived overseas almost 20 years of our nearly 32 years of marriage. We started in England, went to Norway, several domestic transfers later ended up in The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and ended our "tour of the world" back where we began - in England. One of the things you learn fast in a foreign country is to acclimate to the language and customs as much as you (in some cases - morally) can. Resisting said language and customs is to doom yourself to a life of quiet despair and self-imposed isolation. Okay, maybe not that dire but it's not good. I know - I tried it once and it wasn't pretty. But there is an "ugly underbelly" to learning all this nomenclature - it gets into your brain's "hard drive" and, even though you've long left the country behind, traces of that file are still in your brain and can't be totally erased!

As we lived in the London surrounds for half of that time overseas, it is "British-isms" that are firmly ingrained in my psyche. I get odd reactions from people all the time for my turn of phrase. And it's not because I'm trying to be some sort of "global snob" either - I promise! I even mix my terminology in the same sentence! It's become a sort of "Anglo-Yankeese" if you will.

Some examples:

1. Go into a restaurant and ask for "the bill". Odd look. "You want your check?" they say. Well, DOH!

2. Again, in said restaurant where I have not finished my dinner and would like to take it home. I ask for a "takeaway container". Odd look with mouth agape from server. If Jennifer is with me, she looks sympathetically at the server and says, "She wants a To-go box." Is it rocket science that I want to TAKE AWAY my food??

3. I still look for a "car park" but always take the elevator instead of a "lift". I never did get the whole "lift" thing down - always thought that had something to do with Playtex bras or shoes for short men.

4. I ask about "petrol" prices. But I always buy "gas".

5. The other day, talking to Mike about finances, I asked about a letter we needed for our tax file in case the "Inland Revenue" ever audited us.

6. I put trash in a "bin" but never put "rubbish" in said bin.

7. I ask Mike if he wants "a coffee" rather than a cup of coffee but I go to THE hospital, never "to hospital"

8. I asked someone where the local D.M.V. was - they didn't have a clue. (DMV is Department of Motor Vehicles vs. the DPS here)

9. I have never referred to my female dogs as "bitches" although I may have used the term to describe a celebrity once or twice. But I do like to take my dogs for "walkies"!

10. I have been known on occasion to be "gobsmacked".

11. When affirming a statement Mike has made, I'll often say "Quite!" or "Indeed!" Here, I must admit, we are poking a bit of fun at our Anglo-cousins. It's just too much fun...

12. Mike has a "CV" - I forget that is also a resume.

13. I still "post" letters instead of mailing them. But I always check the "mail box" not the "post box".

14. I go to the "grocery" instead of "the store".

15. I talk on a mobile phone - NOT a "cell"

16. And I still get in a "queue", not the "line"

17. I often say "Cheers!" instead of "Bye!"

18. I look for rawl plugs at the DIY (Do It Yourself) instead of molly bolts at Home Depot.

I9. I go on "holiday" instead of "vacation" sometimes. Here is a photo of Tim and Megan "whilst on holiday" together in the Cotswolds in 2002.

20. And I enjoy a "lie-in" as many mornings as I can! We just have a "big breakfast" of eggs and bacon instead of a "fry-up".

21. Fish and chips are still fish and chips - thank goodness for some commonality!

22. We don't drink so we never went down to "our local".

23. Futher to #2 above, we sometimes opt for a "takeaway" vs. "fast food".

24. A queen is still a queen to me - Elizabeth is Royalty; Elton John is a queen. Some things never change. :)

So I'm hopelessly lost in my own little between-cultures world. My children know what I mean, and most of my friends do too for the most part seeing as how most of them have been to visit me at least once while I was in other climes (trying to win the record for the most use of "most" in a sentence). You can spot a former expat by a turn of phrase usually, leading to a conversation that starts with "Did you happen to live in.....?"

My car tag is a vanity plate - TEXPAT. I've had more than one person ask me what that meant (an expat who moved back to Texas) but former expats always know. Great way to meet fellow-language-challenged people! Indeed.

So when next we speak, bear with me if I say something that you don't quite understand. It's probably just my inability to differentiate between the two worlds I've lived in. Either that or my brain is smoothing out - I'll go with the former. Quite.



Emily said...

I used to teach with a British lady. I always had to remind her to say "erasers" instead of "rubbers." While it was good for countless hours of entertainment for me, not good to say to fourth graders.

Iona said...

I never got use to saying trousers in the UK instead of pants. So whenever I said to one of my students to pull up their pants the class were in fits asking why I was looking at students underwear.Although after the twentieth time the gave up on me.

Louisianna Jane said...

This is very interesting & so true even when moving around in the SAME country. I wear togs to the beach, used to take a port to school, & now have a stoby pole in my front yard. Some queenslanders will understand only a part of what I said, as will some south australians, but bet you have no idea : )

Cheri (aka "The Mom Lady") said...

Well, I certainly hope you're going to translate for us! I'm guessing "togs" means swimwear, "port" means a bus or other public transport? Now, a stoby pole - that one has me flummoxed.

Cheri (aka "The Mom Lady") said...

I know now that it's a utility pole!! (electric or phone?)

The internet and GOOGLE is a GREAT resource!!

bec said...

Loved your post. Laughed and smiled all the way through.
Your readers down hear understand you well.

Once a lecturer at uni told us that her grandson came over and she gave him a glass of milk. She said "What do you say?" (thinking he would say "thank you").
He said, "Cheers!"