20 November, 2011

Do you have your coffee white or black?

I've had some very interesting exchanges on Facebook recently over words and word usage. Because I have FB friends from many different countries, my profile page is an interesting place to interact with people about language.

Jumpers and all things confusing
For example, my recent post that included jumpers caused a long discussion about what people call various types of long-sleeved garments that you wear over shirts in winter.

I hope I have this right, of course it isn't a comprehensive survey, just what people stated on  my blog. I found within country variations too: for example, an Australian who used the word sweatshirt, but we ended up with:
Australian jumper = US/UK sweatshirt = South African (SA)  = UK pullover?
Australian knitted jumper = US sweater = UK jumper/jersey/woolie

Australian jersey = US/SA/NZ rugby shirt (I think) / long-sleeved polo shirt
US jumper = Australian/UK pinafore

Australian/NZ skivvy = US turtle neck = SA/UK/India/maybe NZ polo neck

And in the US, skivvy = men's underwear, to this Australian household's intense amusement!

Obviously very confusing.

Musical notation

I've also had a FB conversation about Australian/Commonwealth vs US musical note names, which is less confusing, at least there isn't regional variation as there is for clothing.

Bedding terminology
The bedding FB conversation was pretty interesting, though. I wrote about it here.

Do you have your coffee white or black?

As a coffee lover, I'm a little bit behind the times, however. I think it has a little bit to do with the proliferation of the coffee shop business while I've been away from Australia. So I'm not really up with all the different names that they give coffees. A cappuccino has been the safest, but I've learnt in Japan that Cafe au lait (although the pronounciation is a bit different) is good too.

The other day I said to an American that I have my coffee "white" and I got a blank look. Obviously I'd made another cultural blunder. In Australia, at least when I was growing up, we had our coffees "white" or "black", "with" or "without" sugar. Those were the choices. But obviously that isn't the way Americans describe their coffee. Up till now I've assumed the "flat white" that I periodically see in writing, equals a "white coffee", but after Googling it, I'm no longer certain of that. It seems that a "flat white" is closer to the Japanese Cafe au lait that I've been enjoying.

Fun or just frustrating?
As an editor who is Australian and working with an American editor, I end up having these kinds of conversations all the time. It is often fun, but can be confusing or frustrating. I'm sure those working with ESL students are frustrated too. I know that when I was teaching an English Conversation Club for kindergarten mums a couple of years ago I was frustrated at times. The book we were using was American and I often had to say, "I don't know exactly how Americans use this word." or "We don't call it by that name, but I guess Americans do." But I'm not sure whether that was helpful or just confusing to my students. I'm just too honest to pretend.

My editing colleague, I think, finds it more fascinating than I do. I think that Australians are more aware of American terminology, in general, than the other way around. It has a lot to do with American movies and books that have pervaded the world. We non-Americans can get tired of trying to be bilingual in English, for example, having to think, I'm speaking to an American, so I shouldn't use the word 'toilet'. For Americans, the terms we use are often novel, and fun (or in some cases offensive, like toilet, thongs, rubbers [that all Aussie kids take to school], and skivvies), but not something they have to learn in order to make themselves understood or learn in order to understand the movies they watch or books they read.

Well, this started as a fun post and turned a bit serious on me. Can I finish, therefore, with something a bit lighter?

This comes from here:
In business in Britain, to table something means to bring it TO the table for discussion. In the USA it means to put it aside. I was in a meeting when an American suggested tabling a topic - and a British colleague opened a whole discussion around it. The outcome wasn't as planned. The American got annoyed with what he saw as English arrogance and someone who deliberately did it to make him angry, while the Englishman was bemused at the lack of interest and hostility around the table.


Bec said...

Pants (UK) = undies (Aussie), and trousers (UK) = pants (Aussie). This one caused my small son lots of confusion at nursery (UK) = daycare (Aussie) when we moved there.

Plus I would have called the Aussie jersey a rugby jumper??

I love your increasing list. It is interesting isn't it?

Bec (Aussie who has had to be 'tri-lingual' after living in UK and US!)

Stephen said...

I believe that coffee names have certainly changed since you left Australia! Here is the conversions:

Espresso based coffee:
Cappuccino - milk based, highest froth levels, chocolate dust
Latte - milk based, frothy, no chocolate
Flat white - milk based, least froth
Machiatto - espresso with tiny bit of milk foam on top
Vienna - espresso with cream
Affogatto - ice cream with espresso poured all over it
Short black - espresso
Long black - watered down espresso

Other coffees:
"Black" - instant, plunger or drip coffee (i.e. awful tasting) with no milk
"White" - a black coffee with some milk in it.

In the US:
Cappuccino (difficult to find) - Australian Latte
"Coffee" - awful tasting drip coffee which always comes black. You have to add the milk (cream), which comes in low fat or half and a half (which is half milk, half cream). American coffee always requires you to add your own sugar and milk.

Cafe - espresso
Cappuccino - Australian latte
I didn't bother ordering anything other than these in Europe as you don't need anything other than this. European coffee is fantastic, particularly Italian coffee. Italians do espresso very well and it's expected that you drink espresso if the time is later than 10 AM.

Wendy said...

Wow thanks Stephen. That clears up a lot for me. The challenge will be to know what to choose next time I'm in the country!

Deb L said...

I still do the "black or white?" for coffee and tea back here in Australia. However, I found myself in a terrible tongue-tied bind one day when as an 18 year-old when I went to take the coffee orders after a Bible study meeting. A whole stack of lovely Aboriginal folk had just joined our church. "Tea or coffee?" I asked. Then I said, "Do you... I mean... milk?" We all kept a straight face but I think I saw the hint of a smile on some faces and I bet they laughed alllll the way home in the car at my awkwardness! I'm sure I turned bright red.

Wendy said...

Deb, that's funny! I'm glad they seemed to think it was funny too and not rude.