A wee matter of words

I count myself as bilingual. Anyone who says that English spoken in England and English spoken in America are the same language, hasn’t lived in both countries. Yes, they hold their roots in the same language, as European languages have their roots in Latin- but it’s not the same. I regularly will make a statement to one of my American colleagues in what I consider to be plain English only to be received by a look of utter blankness. It’s not just the accent that’s different- I know this because when you speak to an American with a foreign accent but speaking ‘English’ they will nine times out of ten guess that you’re British, Australian or South African (One could say that this is a good guess- or that pehaps that Americans’ just don’t get out that much). Nor is it simply just cultural differences or spellings- It’s words, it’s slang words, it’s phrases and sayings – and it’s sense of humour.

When I was six years old, my parents moved us from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Birmingham, Alabama. After two years of living in Scotland, my young self had mastered the art of the rolled “R” and “och aye the noo.” In Alabama, my school only needed to hear a few words from my wee Scottish mouth to diagnose me with a speech impediment and resigned me to speech therapy. I became a six year old with a Suh-thern draaawwl and single flat “r’s”

When I was eight years old, my family moved up North to Philadelphia, where I quickly learnt that if I said “yes ma’am” in response to my teacher then I’d end up in detention for sarcasm.

At ten years old, (now devoid of both the evil rolled “R’s”, yes Ma’ams and Ya’lls) my family moved to Manchester in the UK. I have a particular memory of a plump girl with frizzy hair coming up to little me and saying something, which was most likely along the lines of “what’s your name, I’m so and so. You have funny hair”. And, I, standing out like a pineapple in a crate of mangoes with my American hair cut and my American trainers stood blank-faced. I asked her to repeat what she said three times before giving up releasing a nervous giggle and the obligatory ‘when you don’t understand- nod and smile’. I had English parents and English relatives, and I’d vacationed in England every year-

Bilingual child that I was, at twelve, my family returned to the states and then this was followed by me shouting some angry words as a teenager and marching back off to England to attend boarding school and my parents moving to Kentucky, where ‘yes ma’ams’ and ‘ya’lls’ could be dully reinstated. Confused, yet? I certainly was.

Seven months ago, when I found myself up-and-leaving to come back to the land of freedom and dreams, I was fairly confident that it would only be my frightfully British boyfriend that would struggle with the ‘American way’ and that I would fit in nicely. Never one to enjoy being the tourist, in some ways I have always been just that. In London people always thought I had a funny accent but couldn’t place it and over here they guessed I was from one of the three previously stated English speaking countries. But I found that accent aside- in England I was understood whilst coming back to America this time round, I had to rely on memory and my American friends to remind me that saying “i’m just going to nip to the loo” probably wouldn’t be understood or even worse, would be mimicked.

My first job interview in New York was for a food magazine. They asked me to come back and do a few trial days in the Kitchen and my first job was very simply to check off ingredients that we had on a sheet of paper. Simple, I thought- I can do this I know that a courgette is a zucchini and an aubergine is an eggplant, this will be easy. I faced a list stating arugula, rutabaga, broccoli rabe, fava beans, poblanos, bell peppers and so on. If you’re British you will understand why I froze, had a slight panic did the count-to-ten trick and decided it was best to use my best british accent “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m not yet familiar with these terms.” Vegetable ignorance or otherwise, I wasn’t given the job. It’s not just vegetable names though, it’s descriptions- what the UK calls orange cheese is called yellow and the UK yellow is called white. Flaked almonds are sliced almonds, and that’s not even getting into the metric/imperial/cup measuring palava.

Recently, I’ve been caught-up a few times trying to describe in American English what I really mean and then there are the times where I have to ask myself before I speak- “is that the English way to say it or the American?” Everything in the kitchen is different, including style for cooking, methods of slicing/dicing/chopping and ingredients. This week we had an English Chef at work and I felt a new surge of confidence. I’d never met the man before in my life- but we shared British jokes (which nobody understood) and I think that he too felt at rest, not having to deal with trying to explain what he meant to someone who speaks American English and not having to worry that his sense of humour wouldn’t be understood. I was his translator, and nothing translated better than- “Would you like a cup of PG-tips?”

I like to call my language amerolish, I’m not always sure which country I’m representing in my dialect, but I can speak both languages.

ROCK BUNS

rockbuns25.jpg

I’m putting this recipe in here because they are wonderfully British- and with a name like ‘Rock’ in the title they suggest, only to the less knowledgeable, that they are as as rocks- cold, hard and inedible. In truth they are wonderfully soft, comforting and delicious- on the first day anyway. My father likes them as they get older- but then this is a man who likes cheese to be left unwrapped in the fridge so that it dries out. In anycase, store the rock buns in an airtight container.

140g/5 oz butter, cut into cubes
450g/1 lb plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
140g/5 oz sugar
175g mixed raisins
large handful of toasted pecans, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
4 tbsp milk

1/ Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas 5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl with the butter. Rub between your fingers (or blitz to in a food processor) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2/ Stir through thte sugar, raisins, nuts and spices.

3/ In another bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Pour three quarters of the mixture into the flour and using a fork fold together to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more liquid if necessary.

4/ Form into 16 roughly shaped mounds on a nonstick sheet tray and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until risen, and slightly golden on top. Eat as soon as they are cool enough that you can pick them up with your fingers.

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6 Responses to “A wee matter of words”


  1. 1 bubbles98 July 5, 2007 at 9:34 am

    I LOVE this blog!
    I made the chocolate shortbread yesterday for 4th July and it was AMAZING
    more ideas like that please! 😉

  2. 2 jolynna July 9, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    These sound good. So does your chocolate shortbread.

    I will let you know how they turn out for me.

  3. 3 Anna Helm July 10, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Great- let me know!

  4. 4 emma July 10, 2007 at 8:54 am

    What about the lovely Naaaarwich accent? you skipped the wonderous 3 years you spent in the Anglia!

  5. 5 Anna Helm July 10, 2007 at 8:57 am

    luckily i avoided picking that one up- or did I?

  6. 6 Jenifer April 1, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Good morning, Happy April Fool’s Day!!!

    Two winkies went on a hunting trip. After it began to get dark, they thought it was about time to go home. They unfortunately got lost.
    One winkie said to the other, “I read that if you get lost in the woods you should fire three shots in the air. It is supposed to be an “S.O.S.”
    So, the second winkie shot three times into the air. After waiting for a few hours, they repeated the signal. They tried it over and over, but nobody came to help them.
    Finally, the second winkie said, “O.K., I’ll try again, but we’re running out of arrows!”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!


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