So I’m not going to start this posting with that clichéd thing about America and England being two countries divided by a common language. Ok, I will. I’m not sure if it was Shaw or Wilde, but someone at some point in history once said: “England and American are two countries divided by a common language.” There.
I have already mentioned the ocean-sized difference between ‘fanny’ in the US and ‘fanny’ in the UK. In the US it’s a polite word for ‘bottom’ and in the UK it means someone’s vagina. Imagine the horror around the dinner table when my one-time American husband told my family that if my sister called him Chrysalis one more time (his name was Chris) he’d give her a smack on the fanny. Awkward.
Rather more tame and subtle is the difference between ‘sure’ and ‘sure.’
Take this conversation:
Doris: “Hey Rachel, would you like to taste some of my cheesecake I baked this weekend?”
In the US, Rachel’s comment would be interpreted as, “Yes, I’d love to eat some of your specially baked cheesecake Doris. How thoughtful of you to bring me some.”
However, if Rachel was in England ‘sure,’ would mean “Um. If I have to.” English Rachel is being about as rude as will be socially tolerated about that cheesecake without actually saying the words “No Doris! Your last two were totally gross plus how many times do I have to tell you I’m trying to go gluten-free? However as you keep going on and on about it SURE I will eat some of your snatchy cheesecake, you inconsiderate hound.”
That’s the difference between UK ‘sure’ and US ‘sure.’ And it continually makes me edgy. I ask people if they’d like me to help them with something at work. They say: Sure. I wonder do they secretly hope I’ll be laid off at the next corporate culling?
I ask my boyfriend if he wants to snuggle. He says: Sure. I’m suddenly wondering when he’s going to move out and how on earth I’m going to afford the mortgage payment without him. Yesterday I asked Finn if he liked his dinner and he said: Sure. I told him that was very rude and he should always say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when I asked him that question. What? Someday he might want to live in England. This is only to stop Finn-of-the-future being socially shunned.
Also you’ll notice I’ve used the name Doris in my dramatization above. In the UK ‘Doris’ is only a name for women who are over the age of 75 who may or may not still be working as ‘tea ladies.’ In the US it’s a perfectly normal name given to normal, and even cool, women of any age.
I cannot think of anymore sure/fanny/Doris examples right now but I know they are out there. Next time I come across one I shall let you all know.