Once you've dealt with your accent by learning how to make yourself mostly understandable to the American population, you then run up against the next hurdle in fitting in: the words themselves that you choose to say.
Luckily for you pending migrants, wannabe Americans, and eager tourists, today I bring you my own New Zealand-American dictionary, so that you can have all the conversations that you dream of on your next visit to the USA!
The word "bro" plays out in two different ways each side of the Pacific Ocean. In New Zealand, "bro" is a popular term of endearment used to convey a family-like bond with a friend. In America, a bro is a cap-wearing, collared-shirt-clad, sports-bar-dwelling, university-educated, slightly pretentious yet overly obvious male who can almost always be found in packs of likeminded individuals. A bro is an unwatchable Barney Stinson, stripped of the suit and the sense of humour. (NB: bro can also be used as a verb, to facetiously note the "maleness" of your behaviour, e.g. "oh, me, I've just been sitting here, bro-ing out".)
The word capsicum sounds Spanish, or Latin, and is understood as readily. It is replaced in the American vernacular by "bell pepper". The "bell" comes from the fact that the thing looks like a bell, but the "pepper" part is apparently as a result of an early misclassification by Christopher Columbus. In my heart of hearts, I approve more of the word "capsicum", because it's a more whimsical word that captures the fact that no two bell peppers are exactly alike.
Capsicum, bell pepper; coriander... cilantro. Cilantro is a very American sounding word, to me. The harsher middle syllable, cil-ANT-ro, over-emphasises the local cadence. Coriander is a little airier and lofty. Cor-ee-ahnd-er almost sounds as if the word takes off and doesn't come back to earth, like a plane or a glorious eagle.
The dairy becomes the convenience store, which, par for the course in the US, is a much more literal, and harder to confuse, interpretation. Much like the "dairy", the "convenience store" is a pokey, cramped and oddly priced shop, often run by an immigrant family with a shelf stocked with produce from their home country. The convenience stores are under threat by big-brand versions in the US, which come stuffed with a pharmacy, but these are referred to only by their label: CVS, Walgreens, etc.
Yes, a duvet and a comforter are in actuality two distinct things. But language usage and language reality are often separate. Using the term "duvet" makes me feel instantly British-derived and a bit fancy. It's a strange word to even think about after 18 months here.
Soda in the US is a broad catch all for any beverage that emits bubbles. I know fizzy drink is a childish term, even in New Zealand, but it really does throw Americans into a spin, especially wait staff trying to understand a patron who sounds as though they've just crawled out of the fires of Mordor. Soft drink is similarly odd to people here, and why not? The phrase "soft drink" makes no sense to me either. Don't the bubbles make the beverage harsher?
Jandal is not a word that has graced American ears often, if at all, but is acknowledged as part of the sandal family in the US. It's actually not all that troubling to locals, because it still rhymes with sandal and most people will simply assume that you misspoke or they misheard. Certain makers of the "jandal" are well known enough in the USA that they can be their own descriptor: "I bought a new pair of Havaianas today."
Candy in the US, comes by the bag and the bar. A Snickers is a candy bar, a bag of gummy bears is a bag of candy. If you say lollies, you will get chortled at, or someone will look at you with mild concern, almost as if to suggest you might be having some sort of mild stroke. If you say chocolate bar, you'll get handed a large family-sized block of chocolate to gorge on. Which is not necessarily a terrible thing to happen.
The different terms here translate into different realities to ease confusion. Boston has a freeway. LP's hometown in Northern California has a highway. I'm not sure where one becomes the other, but much like obscenity, I know it when I see it. Each is a cut above the New Zealand motorway, with our piddly two or three lanes each way. There're only small fractions of the Auckland "motorway" that would come close to a major American "freeway" in terms of the breadth of lines and terror imparted from seeing so many vehicles move so fast.
The use of ga, instead of petrol makes me snigger, childishly. "I stopped and got gas," someone might say to me. "I bet you did," I'll quip to myself.
A queue is just a line here. I always find myself asking someone where to "queue" only to get met with one of those "what now?" glares that I'm quite familiar with here. It's another incidence of where I side with the Americans. The word "queue" just sounds off when you're the only one out of 300 million people using it.
The common parlance in the US is instead trash or garbage, which really are just similarly harsh words that all connote a substance of little worth or value. But it is the replacing of bin with can that messes me up. Because the trash "can" still seems remarkably bin like, yeah?!
In America, shop is a verb, and one goes to the store to do it. Again, this makes a little more sense, if you think about it. One stores up goods for sale, to entice one to come and shop. My sister sniggers cruelly at me when I tell her that "I went to the store". She'll say, "you went were?" and then repeat her line of inquiry incessantly until I've been broken down and converted back to New Zealand language usage. But if I've learnt anything in this life, it is that older sisters are evil creatures of simply malicious intent.
Saying the word togs in America invites derision of an intensity that I have rarely been privy to. Save the hassle, and repeat the words swimming trunks to yourself 100 times before you hop on the plane. Americans will cackle upon hearing the word "togs" and make you repeat it over and over and over until it is literally a meaningless and strange word that you never want to hear again in your life.
Vegetables are still "vegetables" but one does not go "vegetable shopping", one "shops for produce". The word produce is pronounced here pro-Duce, with all the weight in the world you can swing with two lips to really emphasise that hard D sound.
I'm sure we can add to this list, no?
Become a fan of Voyages in America on Facebook: you'll get blog posts to your news feed, some great photography, and some good chatter. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter, or send an email and share your thoughts.
Post a comment