It’s sometimes easy to forget how different American English and British English are. Sometimes less so.
Because I book my villas to both English and American guests, I’m frequently reminded of the differences. Little things cause problems. For example, the terms ‘self-catering’ and ‘villa’ instantly communicate essential holiday characteristics to British guests, but are devoid of such meaning for my US guests.
I will be mid-booking and suddenly find myself floundering for words to describe what I mean:
“Would you like me to arrange a pushchair for you free of charge? What’s a pushchair? Umm…”
While British influence around the world started fading several centuries ago, American cultural imperialism has more than filled the vacuum. Here in the UK, we are exposed to American TV like we are that of no other country. It’s a shame really, because I feel sure that watching French or Spanish TV would help with our lousy record of learning foreign languages (and our sense of being European, but that’s a whole other topic!).
This diet of American TV classics fools us into the complacent idea that we can speak ‘American’. But for all the time I spend enjoying House of Cards or The Wire, I have to admit we are still separated by a common language.
Nowhere was this more evident than the aisles of Walmart as I stood miming sucking on my finger and desperately making loud, urgent sucking noises as the shop assistant stared back at me.
“No Maam,” he said uncertainly, “I don’t think we have those.”
Perhaps the screaming baby in my arms should have been a clue. But it still took a good twenty minutes before we located the pacifiers. And I realised for all the shop assistant knew I’d been throwing insults his way for the first ten of them.
Almost as embarrassing as the time I went to buy diapers for a guest’s baby, forgot the word, asked for nappies (what the British call diapers) and found myself escorted to the female incontinence pads. Miming was not going to help in that situation…!
There is still plenty of room for misunderstanding you see. So next time, when I struggle to remember what I ought to call ‘stroller’ or ‘carriage’ (instead of ‘pushchair’ or ‘pram’), please bear with me. I’ll get there in the end.