The change crept up on me slowly, unceremoniously, just as stealthily and sneakily as a cat.
While I haven't done a full-blown Madonna (she was heavily derided for her sudden faux-British brogue after spending some time in the UK), this here Canadian's English is now peppered with British-isms.
This involuntary linguistic accommodation manifests itself in a variety of ways. I mean, I now readily say "chips" instead of "fries" and wear "trainers" -- not "sneakers" or "running shoes". My friends back in Toronto took me to task last Christmas because I couldn't stop talking about my London "flat". I've caught myself referring to NYC's subway in conversation as the "tube" on a few occasions now. In the UK it's "pavement", not "sidewalk", so without a second thought I regularly describe it as such. And no matter how hard I try, the "garbage can" is always referred to as a "rubbish bin".
Don't get me wrong: I will never be mistaken for Queen Elizabeth or one of her countrymen. I've written before about how my flat, American-sounding accent is a subject of fascination in London -- I suspect that a lot of Brits love 'Merica more than they let on. But as I've become "more London" I have begun to subconsciously appropriate more vocabulary and phrases native to this land than I ever thought possible.
British words and expressions that first had me scratching my head have become a part of my lexicon. For example, teaching at a school in Central London taught me that it's not "liquid paper" or "correction fluid", but "Tipp-ex". I've learned from the local newspaper I regularly read on my daily commute that a "police lineup" is commonly referred to here as an "identity parade"... and that the "fire department" is commonly known as the "fire brigade". I know now that "tea" is a meal here, not just a drink. Weekends often find me in London's Heathrow airport; when it's time to get on the plane I brandish my "boarding card" -- not "boarding pass"-- with relish.
There are some other expressions that really took me a while to figure out, however. For months I didn't know that "bespoke" signaled that something was "tailor-made". Did you know that what I would call the ER (Emergency Room) is actually known as the A&E (Accident and Emergency) here? (For the record, as long as I live A&E will forever be that television station that broadcasts an endless stream of useless biographies on Hollywood stars.) And did you have any idea that a "dummy" in England is what we would call a "pacifier" in the U.S. and Canada? There are so many more of these, it is just insane. Every day living here is literally an education, at least culturally and linguistically.
Of course, in some ways I will never ever lose the North American patterns of speech and expression that make me, me. No matter how much I'm teased for it by my English friends, I will continue to describe things as "awesome" and exclaim "Oh my god!" Valley girl-style when I am shocked, surprised, or incredulous.
But don't be surprised if I respond to your kind gesture with "cheers" instead of "thank you". British-isms have definitely infiltrated my vocabulary, and quite honestly... I kind of like it!
Do you know a bit of British English? Has your accent or vocabulary in a language changed after being exposed to a different accent or dialect?
Read more about Oneika's travel adventures on her blog: www.oneika-the-traveller.com
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