Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lost in Translation (A Month In)

September 2011

I’ve been in the USA a month now, and so I think its right to reflect over the last month in terms of differences and similarities a little more (God, this sounds like a crappy school exercise!). I’ve discovered that despite both the USA and UK speaking English, there are still lots lost in translation. This was something I didn’t count on particularly when first thinking about coming the NC, and it has been a slight baptism of fire with some interesting and hilarious outcomes!

There are many words used for different things, and new words not heard before for both myself and the Americans I come across. It’s interesting that when skyping home now, I have begun to catch myself saying Americanisms (which I really hoped I wouldn’t), simply because its easier than saying the English (you read that Americans, ENGLISH) words for items. A prime example being Chips, crisps, and fries. Fries are what I call chips, yet chips are what I call crisps. But crisps don’t exist as crisps in the USA. At all. Ever. Think about my frustration at the beginning of the month! It’s also funny how many Americans seem to not understand what I’m saying a lot more than me not understanding what they’re saying (disregarding the accent of course). Common words that I say (which aren’t really colloquial) such as ‘knackered’, ‘bolocks’ and ‘alright’ are met often with a ‘what?’ or blank looks. And that’s before I start saying words such as ‘redders’, ‘wanker’ and ‘sound’! I think this is an interesting commentary on how American culture has impacted on British culture, yet not so much the other way round. Similarly, pronunciation of words has caught me off guard as well. For over an hour I couldn’t work out what a ‘raut’ was, only to discover it was a ‘route’. Likewise there a some fruits called different names here, and I still can’t work out what they actually are!
Also, in conversation, people (and I think this is mainly a Southern thing) stand quite close to you whilst talking to you, which sometimes can be a little off putting, and I’ve already mentioned about the superficial nature of some friendships with people (I hasten to add that this is usually with those you’ve only met once or twice). ‘Yep’ is also commonly substituted for ‘you’re welcome’ when saying ‘thank you’ here too. It took me a while to work out that people weren’t being rude there. Alongside this, many Americans I’ve spoken to on the phone don’t say ‘bye’ at the conversation, they simply hang up. This has caused me to think they were cut off and so rung them back, consequently looking like a fool! Furthermore, words said differently sometimes just sounds weird. I was in one conversation relating to cars, and the word “Hunday” kept cropping up. I really didn’t know this make of car and asked the question, only to then realise (after a fair while of explaining and then writing the name down!) that they were meaning Hyundai, as in ‘Hi-un-die’, not ‘Hun-day’. I still don’t get how the name can be pronounced so differently!

However, my own stupidity probably contributes to the breakdown in communication at times. When I first got here and filled in the room itinerary, I wasn’t sure what the sprinklers were (as in I know what they are, just not what they looked like in the building), or that bedsprings were attached to the bed (I was very jetlagged when this happened). Anyways, according to the sheet I have no sprinklers or bed springs, and 1 tile in the floor. Means I’ll be up in room furnishings at the end of the year when they check the rooms – score!
I still am scared of crossing the roads here. You press a button, wait for like 12 hours before being able to cross yet cars still come towards you. There’s a bizarre rule where you can turn right whilst it’s still a red light, and thus I’ve sprinted towards the curb only to have a car stop for the person (calmly) walking behind. It was winds me up how cross buttons are placed away from the side of the curb, often meaning you have to take anything up to 8 steps away from the curb to push the button. Inefficient! Also on inefficiency, at a STOP sign, a car has to come to a complete standstill before it can proceed, even if there’s no obstruction or danger in front of it. I really don’t get that one!

A couple of other things I’ve learnt in my time so far:
  • It’s illegal to buy spirits (liquor) on a Sunday, and beer before noon
  • It’s illegal to buy alcohol after 2am, which is why all the clubs close at 2am
  • Biscuits are cookies, cookies are cookies, yet a biscuit here is like a scone-type edible item – yeah, I’m still confused!
  • Southern Fried Chicken is amazing
  • When you buy a fizzy drink (soda) here its automatic refills (HOW COOL IS THAT?!)
  • You can pass a driving test with minimal lessons (as in like 5)
  • Sex in any other position that the Missionary position is illegal (imagine that in court!)
  • Everyone’s either from where you’re from or knows someone there. And asks if you know them too
  • Everything’s ‘only’ a certain distance away (even if that ‘only’ is 10 hours)
  • A Yankee is a term given to someone from the Northern States. Didn’t go down well when I first called people Yanks (as in the English for a generic American)
  • University is an interchangeable term with college and school (very confusing!)
  • There is so much sugar in everything here, even bread tastes really sweet. I think I will need numerous fillings when I get back to the UK
  • If you’re 16 and your girlfriend is 15 and you have consensual sex, it’s illegal
  • As a 21 year old, I’m more likely to be in greater trouble with the law than an U21 at a house party where alcohol is being consumed, even if it’s not my house and I’m stone sober.
  • It’s legal for women to walk around topless
  • A 'small' place here is bloody huge!
  • Toilets are located around the ankle everywhere
  • you really do have to drive most places - public transport is shocking to certain places and at certain time of the week
  • Throwing an American Football ball is a lot harder than it looks
  • Don’t ever put an ‘x’ (as in a friendship ‘x’) at the end of a text to an American. It leads to a hell of a lot of explaining having to be done
  • All you can eat cannot be seen as a challenge
  • Recycling does occur
  • Duke University is REALLY hated in Chapel Hill
  • Be careful about going drinking with the Irish and Kiwis
  • It’s hard living with someone in the same room, especially if you’re not very similar in character
  • Petrol (gas) is a third what it is in the UK, and almost everyone at college has a car
  • Never trust the image of a person by their accent if you can’t see them; I went to the insurance office in the first week or so, and heard the most amazing Southern accent come out from behind the work cubicle. I had an image of a gorgeous blond country singer in boots, checked shirt and cowboy hat coming to help me with my concern. As it was, a wrinkled, fat, middle aged women came out in a dirty tracksuit. I was so gutted.
  • There are more fast food restaurants that I can probably go to in the time I’m here
  • Banter exists here. Just in a slightly different format, and sometimes needs to be explained
  • Don’t drink out of bins at parties. It’s usually not worth it
  • You get charged to receive texts to your mobile
  • Many Americans actually get sarcasm, and Monty Python is a big thing here (at UNC at least). I was very surprised at that!
  • Johns foot is still minging
  • An English accent will get you pretty much anything you want. No joke.
Shock at the missing 'u' in 'color'.

Needless to say however, I am getting to the point where I am starting to experience culture shock, and miss things from home, such as decent food (canteen food here’s pretty bad), a decent bed and a room to myself, and family and friends. It’s the little things like Robinsons Orange Squash, real jam and Cadburys chocolate that gets me the most. And the fact that known brands such as Twix and KitKat really are not the same here. Despite this however, I am still having a great time, and enjoying experiencing the American culture for all its similarities, differences and downright lunacies in a way that could never been done as a tourist. 

Having said that, can someone (Your Majesty) please tell these Yanks how to make a bloody proper cup of tea!

Out and about in Franklin Street

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