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’tis the season to … you know like, whatever

HollyThe five levels of adjusting to the American Way.

Level 1

This is the stuff that everyone knows about because you watched a lot of American cop TV as a kid. Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues and ChiPS is where I first learnt that side walks were pavements, pants were trousers and an elevator was a lift. Simple, easy peasy, entry level, your grandmother could do it kind of stuff.

Level 2

This is taking it up a notch – and it’s when you realise that just because every action movie from the ‘states you watch involves shoot outs, mega police cop car chases down the highway, explosions, heists and cases where loose cannon detectives only have 48 hours to solve a case – that this is not the real world of America. People have jobs, get up, go to work, sit at the same desk, staring at their screen, drink bad coffee out of a scummy mug, have yellow post it notes stuck to the side of their monitor and complain about their boss. Just like England …

… except that an aubergine is eggplant, courgettes are called zucchini and paraffin is known as kerosene.

Level 3

This is where you go on holiday for two or three weeks in Florida, California or New York – and you start to get into the vibe of things. You tip in restaurants at 15% without having to do 10% first, then halving it to get the 5% – you just somehow instinctively know what 15% of your check is. (And yes, that’s a check, not a bill. And by bill I don’t mean a dollar. Which is a buck – keep up)

And talking of bucks, it’s at this level that you start to realise that there aren’t just one dollar bills, but there are one dollar coins too – and in fact, two different designs of them. And you remember the difference between a nickel and a dime without having to stop and check all the time.

Level 4

Ok, you’re now ‘into’ America so much (maybe you travel through it a lot on holiday or do business frequently there) that you can now buy shoes and clothes without having to consult the conversion chart to know that a size 8 shoe size in the UKis a size 9 in the US. And that a ladies dress size 6 in the UK is size 0 in the USA.

You’ve stopped drinking tea in fact, and enjoy filter coffee much more than you used to. And you put cream in it instead of milk. You prefer driving an automatic to a manual, you stand up and giving a standing ovation to even a mediocre performance of something, and you’re starting to think that circumcision is a good idea after all.

Level 5

This is the heavy stuff. The kind of thing that you only learn once maybe you’ve decided to MOVE and LIVE here and you’ve experienced day in, day out kind of stuff (things like Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas) to know that for a country that speaks that same language, it might as well be completely different.

At here’s what got me this week – At a children’s nativity church service yesterday, we had to sing carols. “Easy” I think, especially as they’d just been truncated down to just the first verse which you just repeat twice. I didn’t even have to look at the song sheet because everyone knows the words to “Good King Wenceslas”, “I saw three ships”, “Oh little town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a manger” – right .. right?

HollyWell yes … I know the words … but hang on! HANG ON!

It’s a different frigging TUNE here!

I kid you not. The words are the same, but the melody for “Bethlehem” and “Manger” are completely different to how I was taught to sing them growing up as a child. And so I turn to Leigh with a puzzled look on my face, as she mouths “What?”, and I mouth back “Different tune!” to her, and then try and mouth along silently for the rest of song, unable to get my head around the notes which were hitting my ears.

Totally weird.

And it just intruiges me – just when you think you’ve encountered every difference, spelling, pronunciation, product, etc … of the difference between the two worlds, something new pops up to catch you off guard. How long do you have to be here before you know them all?


– The kids here had never heard of the game ‘Pass the Parcel’ – another bit of British now successfully injected into my American world here.

– Following on from FOTCR. I’ve discovered that there is also ‘FOTTL‘ – Festival Of The Tail Light. When the family that have hosted Christmas breath a sigh of relief as the last car drives away from the house and peace and serenity return …

19 responses to “’tis the season to … you know like, whatever”

  1. jj says:

    since when do we speak the same language?

  2. Anthony says:

    “… and youre starting to think that circumcision is a good idea after all.”


    Hope your Christmas was a good one, Geoff. Sorry I haven’t said anything much recently!

    You will be pleased to find that I have joined your iPod army – I now have a new Nano.

  3. Tina says:

    Can anyone explain how the USA have different words to us, when we took ourselves, and presumably our language and
    words across the Atlantic?

  4. Stewart says:

    “and youre starting to think that circumcision is a good idea after all”

    Oh heavens, off the deep end here. Oy… no pun intended.

  5. Yorkie says:

    Kerosene is the proper chemical name for Paraffin in England.

  6. geofftech says:

    #1 – JJ, je ne comprende pas! que?

  7. Tina (3) – Evolution. While we may have had the same language a few hundred years ago, the usage of language changes. Just as awful, for example, now means something almost completely different to what it did originally.

    Of course, lifts, pavements, cars, etc, wouldn’t have been invented then, so the words to describe them wouldn’t have been invented either, so when they were, a new word was needed to describe them.

    Just because I know what 15% of my bill might be, doesn’t mean I’m going to pay it just to subsidise the illegally low wages provided by the employers…

    Is there a stage at which you cease to become surprised at the extra random amount of tax added on to the purchase price in shops?

    [Geofftech] This comment has had 6.5% extra characters added to it

  8. Brent says:

    I LOVE FOTTL!! Both my mom and dad’s side family parties were hosted at my parent’s house this year (that rarely happens, usually its split to different places so as to not stress out one household too much). So about 2 hrs before people actually left on Christmas Day, I asked my mom, “when are people leaving? I want to go to bed.” 🙂

    Now, don’t think I’m a scrooge, I had to drive 10 hours the next day from Northern Ohio back to South Carolina 🙁 I wanted sleep!

    Also, I’m now very curious as to what the tune sounds like that your carols are set to. I figured those are internationally the same :-/

  9. If you give a standing ovation to a mediocre performance, what on earth do you give for a really good performance?

    (Level 4 is worrying me in so many ways…)

  10. geofftech says:

    Well all I can think is .. “Blogcast”. On the next edition (January) I shall have to get Leigh to sing the USA version of ‘Away in…’ and i’ll sing the UK version.

    I can tell immediately by your reaction that you’re looking forward to that one already…

    Incidentally, am currently sat in the ‘business area’ of the departure lounge of Charlotte International airport. If you want to see something rather cool, then you can track my flight (US1494) at to exactly where in the air I am. I take off at 00.20 GMT / 19.20 EST

  11. You don’t catch me that easily, Geoffrey. That is information that could be useful to a terrorist, and thus possession of it is a criminal offence here. I shan’t be looking at it, as an orange jumpsuit isn’t my style.

  12. DG. Apparently, or so I’m told, booing and heckling Chekov isn’t the done thing here either.

  13. geofftech says:

    but there’s a free bed going right now at Hotel Guantanemo Ian, are you sure i can’t interest you? 😀

  14. jj says:

    #6 – an Italian and a Spanish-speaker can understand each other 90% of the time or so, but that doesn’t mean they speak the same language. i’m not sure an average American and an Englishman can understand each other that much.

  15. Stewart says:

    #14 – Jhota, er schreibtete nicht auf italienisch oder spanisch, aber auf franzzisch. That notwithstanding, I’ll comment on neither the average American’s nor Briton’s understanding or, indeed, care for such froschquatsch…

    Geoff and Leigh are doing 568 knots at 38,000 feet right now:

  16. geofftech says:

    … and we’ve landed! HELLO uk!

    – Plugging a chunky 3 pinned plug in to power up my laptop

    – Being able to say “S’alright innit?”

    – Seeing adverts for Vodaphone

    – Directing my mum which turning off the huuuuge roundabout at Gatwick airport to turn onto the motorway.

    it’s the little things that bring you home. /happy sigh/

  17. jj says:

    #15 – are you blathering in Tagalog again? or did you get religion? if you start handling snakes, i’m out of here…

  18. Lisa says:

    #15. MMMmmmm, I just LOVE fresh squash! ;P Also, anyone who has ever been a server probably tips closer to 20% even when the service is bad……just because.

  19. Phil says:

    Geoff – just found this blog. Do you miss adverbs? I’ve been in the states 15 years, still looking…

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