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Friday
Nov252011

Flats, football, fannies and double-fisting: Speaking American vs. English

woman double-fistingWoman double-fisting and wearing a football jersey.
Well, the American way at least…
American English and British English can sometimes be very different. Avoiding embarrassment abroad can often mean changing one’s vocabulary (you don’t have to do the accent though).

In the States we’d refer to a ‘flat’ as a tire that’s lost air, but to those speaking British English (the rest of the world), it means an ‘apartment’.

And our ‘soccer’ is their ‘football’.

Okay, those are easy ones.

So what happens when something said perfectly innocently from an American’s point of view turns out to be hilariously or offensively repulsive to a British English listener?

Let me tell you a little story about a friend of mine. She is a brilliant and funny young woman who’d just finished grad school at a prestigious Ivy League university in the States before landing a job at a top notch financial firm in London. Let’s call her Sarah for the sake of anonymity.

Everyone in the office already knew each other. Most of them were men, and somewhat sexist at that, so she had her work cut out for her to fit in. Each Friday they’d go down to the pub and have some drinks after work but never invited her. Trying show she was cool and fun to hang out with, Sarah finally chimed in saying she’d like to come along this time.

“Nah, we’ll drink a bit too much for you to handle” replied one of the suit-wearing chaps.

“No really, not a problem, I’ll be double-fisting in no time!” she quickly rebuffed.

This is what the response looked like from her officemates before they left, still chuckling, without her:

mockery

Mystified by their response, Sarah went home to her British roommate (flatmate) and recounted the story to figure out what had gone wrong. She was mortified to learn that the term she’d used, “double-fisting”, didn’t just mean she’d merely have a drink in each hand, like it does in the States.

Nope, not in London.

There, it describes an act that even the most seasoned porn star would flinch at.

Ahem.

And even months later as she told me the story, she still hadn’t lived it down. There were still often remarks on Friday afternoons like, “You going to be out doing some double-fisting tonight? [snicker, snicker]”

But it’s happened to all of us travelers at one time or another (okay, maybe not quite that extreme), so I polled some twitter folks to see their favorite American-to-English mishaps. Here are a few responses from @chrismorrisseo, @EverywhereTrip and @BrokeAssStuart:

Here are several of my favorite words used in both American and English with quite different meanings:

AMERICAN ENGLISH
Bloody: used to describe when blood is on something, or someone who is covered in blood—like in Quentin Tarantino films. Bloody: a curse word meant to emphasize the intensity of something, whether it’s good or bad (i.e. “bloody awesome”, “bloody stupid”.
Blow Me: a sarcastically rude way of saying someone might as well give you oral sex because you disagree. Blow Me: a perfectly innocent shortened version of the exclamatory phrase “well, blow me down”, as in feeling surprised.
Estate: a super nice mansion owned by rich people often protected by a gate, or, the assets one leaves behind once dead. Estate: a chintzy subdivision or residential development with cookie-cutter houses built closely together (and if like the States, accompanied by a strip mall).
Fanny: the most benign term referring to one’s butt, other than backside, but is usually only used by children, Sunday School teachers and grandmas.
Fanny: a vulgar way of referring to a woman’s vagina — similar to pussy, or c*nt in the States (except in an ironic twist, the English have no problem throwing that latter word around).
Muffler: a car part to lessen the noise of the vehicle. Muffler: a cozy scarf to keep one warm on chilly days.
Pull / Pulled: to draw an object toward oneself. Pull / Pulled: to ‘hook up’ with someone (i.e. have sex).
Sod: pieces of turf with grass growing from them, usually used to quickly improve the look of a home’s lawn (or what the Brit’s call a garden). Sod: when something goes wrong. Calling a person an ‘old sod’ means you’re calling them a ‘bastard’. Sod’s Law is synonomous with Murphy’s Law (i.e. what can go wrong will).
Rubber: a condom. Rubber: a pencil eraser.

 

Tell us some of your favorites, or maybe a juicy tale of embarassment and misunderstanding on your travels…

 

Kim Mance is Galavanting’s editor-in-chief and host of web tv like Galavanting.tv. She’s based in Brooklyn, NY and has blogged for places like Condé Nast Traveler, Marie Claire,
Travel + Leisure, Huffington Post, and Babble. Kim is also host of the popular TBEX conferences in North America & Europe.
She’s @kimmance on Twitter.

 

 (photos: istockphoto)

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