Letters from America - Sarah Butcher reports from Worcester, Massachusetts

Sarah hails from Park Street and in her latest letter from America she looks at some of the many cultural differences between 'us and them'.

'I'm an Englishman in New York' sang Sting in 1988 as he proceeded to list the cultural differences between the English and Americans, and while I'm an Englishwoman at Worcester State College would not have sold as many records the sentiment is ultimately the same.

Both nations claim English as their first language yet there are vast differences in everyday speech heard on either side of the Atlantic, even before considering the other languages spoken within the countries. Read more ...

I will begin by examining car parts, a subject familiar to most people. Award yourself the prize of your choice if you can identify the following (no cheating):

4.Turn signals

If you said bonnet, boot, gear box, indicators and windscreen then congratulations, you are fluent in American' English! The above example demonstrates that misunderstandings are common even when you are technically all speaking the same language, and don't end with the humble car.

Imagine if you will that you have just rented (hired) the above car in America, and once you've mastered driving on the other side of the car (let alone the other side of the road) you're feeling pretty proud of yourself. You're meeting some American friends and don't want to be late. However, does panic set in when you are confronted with these obstacles on your journey?

1. Reflectors
2. median
3. detour
4. divided highway
5. rotary

Of course, you're no doubt an expert at this and would have known that while driving at night there are reflectors (cats eyes) in the middle of the road, the median (central reservation) would have kept you from straying into the path of oncoming traffic and you would be hoping to avoid a detour (diversion.) Once on the divided highway (dual carriageway) you would not want to miss your exit as you would have to go to the next rotary (roundabout) to make amends.

You've offered to go to the grocery store (supermarket) for your new found friends and the eventful journey is finally completed. Once the cart (trolley) is collected the following items have been requested by your hosts. Egg plant, zucchini, chips, jelly, jello and oatmeal. (Not only do your friends have weird food tastes but they also didn't give you any money for the shopping. That's gratitude for you.)

Once you've waited in the line (queue) for what seems like an eternity you will end up with the following fine selection of foods; aubergine, courgette, crisps, jam, jelly and porridge. Hmm, nice dinner you're going to get. Consequently the plans get abandoned and you head to a restaurant so you have more chance of finding something you actually want to eat.

Once there, it seems the restaurant can't find your reservation (booking) so you end up sitting at the bar until a table becomes available. After sweet (pudding) your friend asks for the check (bill) and wants to split it with you. But you only ate a salad while he had three courses so you leave a few bucks (dollars) and make your escape.

So you've survived a day with your American friends and it really wasn't that bad, although maybe you've realized that the only reason you've remained friends this long is because there is normally several thousand miles of sea between you, and what's more you like it that way.

Pretty soon it's time to go home but on the plane you end up sitting next to a screaming baby and the mother has forgotten to bring a spare diaper (nappy) and a pacifier (dummy) for the noisy brat. The restrooms (toilets) are broken so you decide that excessive alcohol is probably unwise and go to sleep instead, thankful that the free earplugs have been handed out already.

Once back at the airport your case comes off baggage (re)claim and, horrors! Your suitcase has opened and your underwear (knickers) is spilling out everywhere. Lucky you brought a spare trash bag (bin liner) for you to stuff everything in until you can get back to your house.

This just goes to show that even the same language can be amusingly different, as anyone who has spent time in the States will know only too well, and vice versa. It's a lot of fun making the mistakes though!

Until next time, here's the English woman at Worcester State College signing off and wishing everyone a Happy New Year from cold but beautiful Massachusetts!

Posted: Fri - January 6, 2006 at 07:33 PM