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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Divided by a common language

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who commented, became followers, or sent me a message, after my first published blog. Hopefully, this second edition will not disappoint. With so much to write, old mixed with new, I have to ration myself to little and often. After much deliberation, I decided to stick with the plan (and promise) to describe my inability to be understood.
After six years, the word I hear more than any other, in response to questions, answers or mere comments, is 'Huh'? Making myself understood has become a vocation.

I have always managed to make myself understood in most countries. For someone who talks with her hands, waving my arms around in the air usually conveys the general message. It is usual for children with bi or multi lingual parents to be able to speak the same languages and have the ability to converse with foreigners with a modicum of ease. Two or more languages under one's belt can be of great benefit. My father was bi lingual. He spoke English and was also fluent in cockney rhyming slang. He taught me well and whilst not quite as proficient I can understand and use the language with success. Unfortunately, it has not afforded me any relief.

It was George Bernard Shaw who coined the phrase 'divided by a common language'. Americans and the British mostly share the same words but some have a different meaning. Products with familiar names are not always what you expect. When someone asks for 'biscuits and gravy', it is hard not to picture Hob Nobs covered in Bisto! Biscuits are more of a plain scone. The gravy used is a thick white sauce. But it is not only language, it is pronounciation. Asking for a glass of water is a real challenge. The waiter smiles, looks nervous, looks around to the rest of the patrons for help, and when receives none, utters the by now all too familiar, 'Huh?'

Keeping my English accent can be advantageous. Speaking each word slowly with clarity gives an air of authority. It is easy to make a complaint and obtain satisfaction. What is not so easy is keeping the English English language. I have to succumb to 'American' when I am at work or asking for something at the supermarket. It once took fifteen minutes and five salespeople to find the washing up liquid. How can one eloquently describe, 'the coloured liquid that you squirt into the sink full of water to make bubbles so you can clean the dirty plates'. Eventually I was led to the 'dish detergent'. There was a short period when I thought my brain was failing and my ability to hold a reasonably sensible conversation was failing miserably. Words seemed to be crumbling as they left the back of my throat and hit my tongue. The self diagnosis proved to be correct and the relief beyond euphoric! Whilst trying to keep my English English, I also had to be understood, therefore resigning myself to using American English. I was trying to speak two languages at once. As I started to speak, I realised that the words would not necessarily 'fit' and due to the resistence I had developed to speaking American English, I couldn't find the words at all. It didnt take long for my brain to go on strike and my mouth to picket!

There is a sense of excitement when I hear another British accent. My ears have become very sensitive to anyone interacting using the Queen's English. My English, however, has become less and less consistent with that of Her Majesty (or at least her public speech) as the slang of my homeland rolls off my tongue with such ease. Phrases such as 'flippin 'eck' and 'not 'arf' are perhaps not the English that would be taught to those who are endeavouring to learn the language to converse with a potential employer, but are so effective when wanting to remember the taste of home. When asked 'how are you', I am never frowned upon for answering 'bleeding knackered'.

Austin is a wonderful city and people are very laid back and most are happy to let me talk without actually understanding, They watch my lips (and hands) and when they stop moving (and waving)it is their cue for a response. My daughter's boyfriend (who has been coming to our home nearly every day for over three years) still looks at me and smiles, then turns to her and says 'What did she say?'

I would venture to say that the only person who has never had to ask me to repeat myself is my dentist.....but that is another story!

1 comment:

  1. What did she say?! LOL....An intereting post-- I can indentify and agree with every single experience you have had. I am there and live it every day too!! hey you haven't even touched upon if you try the dry British humour!! LOL..... that"s another story!! But, to be honest, really not worth your energy.... Oooops, did I say that aloud?