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The Shock of a Common Language

By Estrella Rodriguez '17 on September 22, 2015

Estrella Rodriguez_opt

One would think mother and child would have similar traits. Maybe America is well into its rebel-teenager-who-tries-to-be-as-opposite-from-its-mother-as-possible stage. I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who once said “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” I did not realize how true this statement is until I spent a semester in London. Its veracity goes even further than language, however. We just do things differently. I expected – like many Americans, I am sure – that England would just be a more polite version of the United States, with a couple of quirky foods and phrases thrown in. Wrong.

English … American Vocabulary (non-exhaustive)

Bits … Pulp; Frosties … Frosted Flakes; Walkers … Lays (chips); Washing up liquid … Dish-soap; Top up … Refill; Till … Register; Puddings … Desserts; Coriander … Cilantro; Soft Cheese … Cream Cheese; Jumper … Sweater; Toilet … Bathroom; Way Out … Exit; Lift … Elevator; Trousers … Pants; Trainers … Sneakers; Pavement … Sidewalk; Biscuit … Cookie; Crisps … Chips; Chips … Fries; Bill … Check; Takeaway … Takeout; Torch … Flashlight; Queue … Line; Settee … Couch

English Homes
Wake up and go to the bathroom, turn on the light outside the door before going in. Open both taps in order to wash. Stick cupped hand in cold, transfer to hot, for optimum temperature. Splash on face. Repeat. Head to the kitchen. Choices for breakfast: orange juice with no bits (pulp), Frosties (frosted flakes), “New York Style” bagels with Philadelphia full fat soft cheese (cream cheese). Let’s see what they think New York is. Not terrible. Take plate to sink and use washing up liquid (dish-soap) and a heart-shaped sponge. The faucet (tap) is too high, and water comes out at such a weird angle that there is no way to not splash while washing the dishes. Dry hands, ignore sprinkled shirt, start the day.

English Groceries
Cynthia Ozick tells us that “when you break off from the quotidian, it is the teapots that truly shock.” Just a couple of days ago I had a teapot shock. I went to Sainsbury’s (a chain grocery store) to attempt to find lemon juice to cook with for the fourth time. I almost walked by the stand at first. A sign at the top read: PANCAKE DAY – FEBRUARY 17. I thought someone put the lemon juice on the shelf accidentally, but when I picked up the bottle I saw: “perfect for pouring over pancakes.” Pancakes. Pouring?! Oh, the British…

They also:

Keep the eggs on a non-refrigerated shelf;
Have the shortest expiration dates I have ever seen in my life;
Don’t sell groceries in bulk (maybe because of the expiration date mistake);
Make you use the self-checkout “tills” which they then must help you with;
And package everything as if you will consume the entire product once you get home.

Don’t underestimate the power of the “little things”! I’ll be kissing my teapot when I return.

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