31 October, 2016

Cross cultural communication in English

On Saturday after the cross-country finals we had lunch in the restaurant on the US recreation "base". An American restaurant with American friends. I was surprised at how much "translation" was required.

Our waiter was a trainee and drew a little diagram on his notepad to help him remember who ordered what. One of the Americans suggested after the waiter left that we could all switch seats. I said, with feigned admiration, "You're wicked!" That was met with confusion! We had to explain it meant "a bit naughty".

This led into a discussion about Australian humour, and that teasing, being "mean", or "paying out" was a sign of friendship.

Then another parent came over to say hi. He's an Aussie. His son had gotten a medal earlier so I congratulated him saying, "Good onya." That also required explanation for our American friends: "Well done"! 

Chips or fries? In Australia those words a synonyms (except at Maccas)
When the Aussie finished talking to us he said, "Well, I'll leave you to it!" That one also needed interpretation, it means "I'll let you get on with what you're doing."

The menus required some translation the other way. Hoagie rolls and Kaiser rolls! I'm still not really sure what they are. The waiter also asked if I wanted fries or chips. I looked at my friends and said, "Fries are hot and chips are cold, right?" They looked confused for a moment!

David was asked whether he wanted bacon or ham with his burger, he said, "ham" and deftly slipped in, "American bacon is too chewy!" (Lucky they let him get away with that virtual slander!)

Language is a fascinating thing. Finding Americans untouched by our brand of English can also be fun. But I'm still not interested in going to America, I think communication might be harder than I want to try.

We also discovered that none of them have tried Vegemite. I'm thinking we might need to do some more educating!


Sarah said...

I had some American flatmates while I was at uni and lived in student housing. I became good friends with one of them in particular, and we made a list of Aussie words/phrases and their American equivalents. I remember reading Judy Blume books as a kid and being puzzled by what 'bangs' and 'barrettes' were.

Dennis Hodgson said...

Vegemite? You Aussies really need to wise up to the fact that Vegemite is merely a cheap American copy of the real deal: Marmite!

Roberta Peabody said...

Hoagies and Kaisers are GRINDERs not subs where I'm from. Don't get me started about the "new england" words I have to translate for other Americans!

Joan Justiniano said...

Really? You had to translate "I'll leave you to it."?? Your friends need to get out more or watch more movies or something! That doesn't even seem particularly Aussie/Brit to me. I'm pretty sure people in the States use that phrase, too.

Wendy said...

Joan, that's an interesting comment. This guy surprised me, he is one of the most well travelled missionaries I know in Japan (though he admitted to not having met many Aussies).

Wendy said...

Roberta, yes, I get it that the US has a tonne of diversity, in accents, culture, and language. Isn't it frustrating when outsiders generalise about our home country?

Ken Rolph said...

One of my cousins was an army engineer in Vietnam. An American engineer came over to ask if he could borrow a grader. My cousin said, "Go for your life". The American immediately ran outside and jumped into a bunker.

Wendy said...

Ken, I wasn't sure if you were still reading my blog. Thanks for stopping by! But now I'm confused. Please explain! I think I know what a "grader" and a "bunker" is (large machinery that flattens ground and a place where you can shelter from bombs or other attacks) but I wasn't aware they could be the same thing.

Ken Rolph said...

The American misinterpreted the phrase "go for your life". My cousin was giving enthusiastic consent. The American heard that they were about to be under attack

And in answer to your unstated question, yes I am still alive.

Wendy said...

Ah, I get it now! I bet that took a bit of explaining.