Divisions of language and culture

Spending time with a large group of people is usually fairly comedy, albeit often in a niche, you had to be there kind of way. [I always feel sorry for friends of mine who end up in the midst of my singing friends (particularly the girls of Girls’ Weekend Away fame) and a whole host of stories about events they weren’t at and people they’ve never met.] These situations often become even more amusing when you add to the mix people from different cultures who have very different ideas to you…

…like bringing together a load of leftie-liberal Londoners, mostly from the trendy East End, with a group of right-wing conservative Texans. Now that’s just asking for trouble!

Leaving aside the obvious political differences (the wildly divergent reactions to someone getting Al Gore in a game of Guess Who? were amusing to say the least and involved much biting of British tongues), there were many examples of language issues, often with hilarious effects. Oh ok, I’ll share one political example. We were in France, there was always going to be the chance that WW2 would be mentioned, or some other conflict in which the Americans ‘saved us’. And thus, the following exchange took place:
Brit: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
Texan: “War is God’s way of teaching the French to say no.”

Somehow it became my role during the week to document amusing quotes as they appeared and then recite them after dinner, the bulk of which related to Anglo-American confusion or clashes. For example, an education was conducted by a British furniture designer with a Texan roofer over the subtleties of British phrases – particularly the difference between describing something as “bollocks” and “the dog’s bollocks”. [Classy.] It took a while for the Texan to get the hang of it…
T: “That’s the dog’s balls!” 

B: “No, you’ve not got that at all right.”
It took a few days until the Texan achieved the right phrase in the correct context and when he managed it, it was rather touching…

Texan to his wife after eating a plate of food she’d cooked: “It’s the dog’s bollocks.” 

Texan wife in reply: “Thank you darling.”

A happy Texan couple and the Texan versus the Brit.

When with Americans, there’s always the temptation to deliberately use British terms that mean something else in the US, just to create something of a sensation – or stealthily getting Americans to use terms that cause British hilarity. Like the classic bum-bag versus fanny-pack scenario. To quote a Texan: “What’s wrong with calling it a ‘fanny pack’?” – that was a fun question to answer. Or a load of immature Brits collapsing with giggles when someone described how, following a broken ankle, “In this leg, I’ve got 2 screws & a knob…”. Still, in exchange I have also learnt that describing a smelly article of clothing as “fruity” stateside lends it quite a different meaning, especially if it’s a man using the adjective.
Perhaps my most favourite moment involved much immaturity. (In fact, as I read through the quotes with a London friend who left France early, I realised that there were many that involved me and two companions who seemed to consistently form the naughty end of the table.) We had use of a Swiss minibus for the duration of the trip, which required some force to be applied from outside in order for the passenger door to be shut properly. Usually this was only remembered once the passengers were inside and whoever occupied the front passenger seat would have to jump out and exert some pressure, via their posterior, to the door. 
Ultimately this resulted in a cry of “Shannon, you need to bum the door!” from one of the American occupants, which was met with shrieks from all the British passengers. We didn’t fully explain the multiple meanings that can be drawn from ‘bum’ as a verb, and when I retold the story to my two compatriots at dinner, I for some reason thought to talk about how I could have explained the joke to the Americans with the phrase “can I bum a fag?”. Of course I could…but I’d only intended to explain ‘bum’ in the context of borrowing something, not the other translation! We didn’t dare explain the source of our hoots of laughter to the innocent Texans. 
Inside the fun bus & some resulting hilarity. 
(The hilarity would have nothing to do with the substance in that glass…)

What can I say? It seems that my sense of humour lies very firmly in the gutter. On the plus side, I have come home with a host of new phrases which I’ll be looking to slot into conversation wherever possible. These would be two of my favourites:
“That tasted so good I’m gonna slap ya mama twice.”
“I’m as full as a tic on a hound dog.”

Comments

  1. Great post!

    I am a liberal Londoner currently on holiday in the Bible belt, and I have had to bite my tongue a few times!

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