There are certain times in my new British life, where I’m cringingly aware of my repatriation status. Most of the time I blend in, which after more than twenty years of being listened to by people I wasn’t addressing, is quite a relief. And then sometimes I completely blow my cover –
TMI – There are many situations where I look like a complete idiot because I have an English accent and yet I’m behaving like an alien. Cases of not knowing how to fill the car up (pump gas) or buy a railway ticket garner extra idiot points when any questions posed are in the native tongue. Cue attempts at damage control, also known as me sharing far Too Much Information about why I’m not really an idiot. Take my conversation with the postman only yesterday –
Postie – “Still a bit chilly but apparently it’ll warm up.” (Yes, we do talk about the weather a lot.)
Me – “Oh this (48 Fahrenheit) is positively balmy.”
Postie – Facially registers confusion.
Me – (Launching into said TMI) “Oh well in Chicago it’s below freezing”.
Postie – More confusion face, mixed with either sympathy or fear.
Me – “Oh, I lived in Chicago for years and spent about four months of winter in sub-zero temperatures.”
Postie – “Oh, right.” (Still doesn’t have the right look on his face.)
Me – “………so this is positively balmy”. Laugh, laugh, laugh, oh how I laughed.
Postie – Probably thinking “I don’t know about balmy, she’s barmy*”
*barmy – slang for mad or crazy.
Vocab Switching – I’ve always marveled at how bi-lingual people can switch between two languages when talking to each other. Obviously, there’s admiration for anyone fluent in more than one language, but to start a sentence in say, French, and finish it in English has always intrigued me. What goes through their heads? Do they even realize they’re doing it? (Genuine questions so if you have the answer, please enlighten me in the comment box.) I’ve also wondered, in a slightly judgy sort of way I’ll admit, how people can possibly forget their own language. I mean, yes, you’ve lived abroad for twenty years and don’t speak English on a day to day basis, but come on!
And now I’m doing it. Sort of. When I’m speaking to Brits, I tend to stick to British words and phrases. (If anything, I overdo it on the phraseology – See below.) When I’m talking to my husband and kids, however (all of whom are also “bi-lingual”), I just fling in whichever word comes first. Sometimes it’s “trash” and other times it’s “rubbish”. I can even start a sentence in British and finish in American, as with “What day do the bin men come? We must remember to put the trash out.” (The importance of all things trash-related will be explained in a later post.)
Overdoing the Brit bit – It’s been so long since I could use Brit slang words without having to stop mid-sentence to explain them, I now find my speech awash with them. The language equivalent of a kid in a candy store. “Fortnight” has reappeared, as has “faff” and “dobber”. (Fortnight = two weeks, faff = ineffectual activity, dobber = the TV remote. That last one seems not to be universal, and apparently, Brits have over fifty words for the TV remote. ) I’m reaching so far back in my British lexicon that even my husband hasn’t heard me use some examples, and my son is convinced I’m playing a giant prank on them and just making words up as I go along. Note to self – next time I’m bored I should try that.
Marmite Everything – If you’re familiar with Marmite, you’ll know it’s a polarizing issue. This sticky, yeast extract spread is the subject of much debate, and you either love it or hate it. I love it. So much so that I now search the food aisles for other Marmite products. When I left England you could only buy sticky Marmite, in a pot. Now……oh my giddy aunt. There’s Marmite Rice Cakes, Marmite crackers, Marmite chips (crisps in the UK), even a Marmite cookbook. My mantra is usually “everything in moderation” but that’s gone by the wayside where the Marmite is concerned, I’m afraid.
The Marmite people have been very clever in their marketing in recent years. Not only have they included the love/hate idea in Marmite advertising, they commissioned a Gene Project and found that your taste (or lack of) for their product is in your genes. They even sell a DNA kit at their website so you can find out if you’re a lover or a hater. Ingenious.
Using any excuse to go to Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall – The quality and popularity of Marks and Spencer* merchandise may wax and wane, but everyone admits that their Food Hall is something special. I don’t know anyone who does the weekly shop there but it’s a treasure trove when you want to treat yourself. Last week it just so happened that the shoe store we needed to visit for son’s new school shoes was round the corner from M&S. “Oh, let’s just pop in” I breezily suggested, and somehow managed to persuade husband and son that individual M&S meals would be lovely for Sunday evening. Mine was Chicken Tikka Masala with Pilau Rice, husband got some sort of crusty pie with mashed potatoes and veg, and son went for sushi. For the win!
*Marks and Spencer is a national chain store selling everything from sofabeds and sundresses to spanakopita and sandwiches.