November 22, 2005

How to speak English in America - II

To continue on the cultural differences theme I brought up in a previous post, here are some more things I've noticed. Sometimes, words we use in South Africa or Europe that have a positive meaning, mean the opposite here. It took me a while to "get" this next example.
In LA, "funky" means 'messed up/weird/not working' as opposed to...well... FUNKY! COOL! GREAT! I had a few strange moments when I'd be discussing something problematic with someone and that person agreed with me saying, “yeah, it's all funky". That threw me totally. I thought we had agreed it was bad/a problem/not good, but turns out they think it's actually cool. Until I finally asked someone what they meant when they said funky and it all got cleared up. How I'm ever going to be able to use funky again, without stopping to consider my geographical location, I'm not sure.

I once walked into a grocery store and asked a shop floor assistant a question (in English). He shook his head and replied that he didn't understand. Seeing as he was Hispanic and had an accent, I thought he meant he didn't speak or understand English. I was amazed and went home and told Lauren: "You know, there are people employed at supermarkets who don't even speak English! I asked this guy whether my vegetables would be weighed at the till and he didn't understand."
Lauren's response: "Did you use the word 'till'? Yeah, no, it's check-out. If you use British slang, no-one will understand you."

Well, yeah - I've noticed. The car rental man didn't know what I was talking about when I told him the "boot" won't open and there is a loose connection under the "bonnet". Once, when I asked someone where the toilets were, she roared with laughter and replied:" In the RESTROOM!" Speaking of which - why on earth is it called that?! I mean who wants to REST there? I just want to do my thing and get the hell out, thank you. In any event, if you do want to spend half an hour 'resting' in a so-called restroom, you can be sure that some freak will knock the door down soon enough to get in to do some 'resting' of their own!

Other words that will get you a "huh?" and wrinkled brow response: CV is a resume, boot is a trunk, bonnet is a hood, petrol is gas (they LOVE it when I fill up with petrol) and you will get laughed at (and I mean LAUGHED at) if you pronounce schedule in the British way. For some reason, this really cracks people up. So, please remember to pronounce it "sKedule" and not the wickedly hilarious "SHedule". However, if you follow these simple're all set!

Oh, yes, that brings me to another expression favoured by people here. When said quickly with an American accent, it sounds a bit like "ural set", which drew many a blank look and embarrassed: "pardon?" from me. "Ural set!" came the repetition. I still wouldn't know what was going on so I'd just smile and nod politely, as one does in such situations. By week 3 I had finally figured it out... luckily the nodding had actually suited the situations covered by "you're all set", so that's a relief. I may have felt foolish, but I didn't necessarily look it.

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