Returning to America after four years in Europe

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

American as a Second Language

For the last two years, I lived with a native speaker of the Queen's English. Now that I'm back home in the U.S., I'm baffling friends with words like spanner and skip.

It's not that I'm trying to be cute or even Euro by saying shag instead of... well, you know. Or trash instead of bin. Or car park instead of parking lot. Or bank holiday instead of national holiday. Or petrol instead of gas.

I use these words because I've grown accustomed to what Americans would describe as British English and Britons refer to - naturally - as English. The Real English. After all, this is the language all continental Europeans are taught in school. Dutch friends have told me they are marked down by teachers when they speak "American English."

So in order for me to communicate with virtually all Europeans in English (as an American, it is genetically impossible for me to gain fluency in a real second language), I had to speak English. I also wrote for many English publications so I had to learn to reverse E's and R's (i.e. centre instead of center) and replace Z's with S's (realise instead of realize).

So far, my less than fluent American has caused some uncomfortable moments - like the other day when I just could not remember the American word for spanner. It's wrench, for those of you who are wondering. And I confused the hell out of my friends at dinner the other night when I kept banging on (talking a lot) about a skip (dumpster).

But it could get worse. Next week, I start an editing job where I will be unleashed with a red pen.

Thankfully, raced-based discrimination is illegal in this country.


At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Lola said...

No more flats, either -- they're apartments! You never did take to calling cigarettes "fags", though. At least, not around me. Seems like selective English!


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