The Expat Diaries: Are we speaking the same language?

I often joke that even though I moved to an English-speaking country, I sometimes feel like I'm talking another language. In truth, it's not that much of an exaggeration. I spend a lot of time deciphering accents, muddling through British slang and trying to figure out the Canadian equivalent. My friends and co-workers put up with a lot of, "What do you mean by that?" and "What is this thing on the menu?" Perhaps my favourite example happened a couple of weeks ago. My flatmate Kari, a fellow Canadian, had started working at the cafe run by the charity I work for. My co-worker wanted to know how to pronounce her name, but to me his question sounded like, "Is it pronounced Carrie or Carrie?" "Yes, that's her name," I replied, "You've just said the same thing twice." "No I haven't," he said, "Listen!" We went back and forth like this for a little while, giggling over our shared confusion.

Finally I thought to ask, "What do the two different pronunciations rhyme with?" "Carrie, like berry, or Carrie, like Mary," he told me.

"But berry and Mary rhyme!"

"No, they don't..."

I was so confused at this point that I had to ask Kari, my mom, and my dad whether they agree that 'Mary' and 'berry' rhyme. They did. I asked a few British friends, however, and they sided with my co-worker.

So not only are there differences of accents and phrasing to contend with, but it seems that British pronunciation is actually more nuanced than the North American accent (even if I can barely hear the difference). It's a good thing I didn't decide to move to Germany or France because I'm having a difficult enough time speaking English to English people!

For fun, I've put together a glossary of words I've stumbled over or been corrected on so far. In some cases I've adopted the Britishism; I've started saying 'queue' instead of 'line' but still can't bring myself to say 'loo' - whenever I do it feels really unnatural.

  • trousers: pants  
  • pants: underwear  
  • post: mail  
  • washroom/bathroom: toilet or loo  
  • en rule: en dash  
  • pancakes: crepes  
  • Scotch pancake: pancake  
  • aubergine: eggplant  
  • courgette: zucchini  
  • savoury biscuits: crackers  
  • biscuit: cookie  
  • rocket: arugula  
  • gherkins: dill pickles  
  • pickle: chutney (sort of?)  
  • baps: buns (as in dinner roll)  
  • toastie: grilled cheese sandwich  
  • petrol: gas  
  • pavement: sidewalk  
  • lift: elevator  
  • queue: line (as in line up)  
  • notes: bills (as in money)  
  • hob: burner (on your stove)  
  • lead: chord (ie. extension chord)  
  • pet hate: pet peeve  
  • poppers: snaps (the ones that keep your shirt closed)  
  • wellies: rain boots  
  • rubber: eraser  
  • car park: parking lot  
  • motorway: highway

I've created a section in my Filofax for "British translations," so I'll keep updating this list or do another instalment sometime. In the meantime, let me know if you have any to add to the list!