British English and American English are very similar and we can easily understand each other. However, there are certain words that mean completely different things in one version of the language versus the other. There have been many good laughs when this occurs and it has made for many entertaining encounters.
Even though I speak the same language as my home-stay family, I sometimes feel as though we speak two different languages. Many times the differences in our vocabulary lead to all of us laughing. I think my favorite example of this is when my home-stay sister asked me about jelly and jam. We were all in the kitchen, and my home-stay mom had just bought hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are very yummy. They are sweet and doughy breads that are served with butter and jam.
We were all putting on the butter and jam, which gave my home-stay dad an idea. He was in a joking mood and decided to confuse his 21-year-old daughter. He held up the container of jam and asked, “Don’t you call this jelly in America.” I smiled and replied, “Yes, it is called both jelly or jam.” My home-stay sister put on a really confused face and my home-stay dad just laughed. She said to me, “Doesn’t it get confusing?” I was very confused at this point. My home-stay sister pulled out a lunch-sized cup of fruit Jell-O from the refrigerator and said, “Then what do you call this?” Still confused I replied, “Jell-O?” My home-stay dad continued to laugh, because he had succeeded in confusing his daughter. I learned that the British call Jell-O a “jelly.” My home-stay sister just shook her head smiling and said, “That’s weird.” If I had said: “I love putting jelly on my toast,” she would have thought that I like Jell-O on top of my toast. And that would be kind of weird.
“Jelly” in England and “Jell-O” in the United States
We have had some really good times talking about what we call certain things. Just last night, my home-stay parents were making themselves a drink before dinner. My home-stay dad’s favorite drink is whiskey and lemonade. When I heard this, I was not so sure about the combination, but it soon made a lot of sense when he pulled out a bottle of Sprite. Any carbonated lemon-lime drink is considered “lemonade” in England. Our American lemonade is called “cloudy lemonade” in Britain.
Every now and then I have trouble understanding the accents. I have learned that people have very different accents depending on where in England the person is from. To be honest, I was surprised to hear that. It should make sense though, because people in the United States have different accents depending on where they are from. The oldest of the three daughters of my home-stay family moved out about a year ago to a town that is over an hour away from Oxford. The first time she visited, I understood her fine until she asked me a question at dinner. I had to ask her to repeat the question twice, because I just could not quite get what she was saying. After I understood her and answered the question her sister poked fun at her. She said, “See, moving away has changed your accent and now people can’t understand what you are saying with that country accent.” I have been here for five weeks now, and I can notice subtle changes in accents from time to time, but I could not tell you where a person with a particular accent is from.
I am enjoying some of the words that are used often here in England, but not at home in the US. I think my favorite word is “posh.” Posh is an informal way of describing something that would be something of the upper class. In the United States it is like a combination of smart, stylish, and high-class. Other words that are used frequently as positive adjectives are “gorgeous” and “brilliant.”
I am still getting used to some of the typical ways of greeting people. Americans are a lot more accepting of straightforward questions and greetings, and do not get uncomfortable when a person asks how you are doing. When my home-stay family wants to know how each other are doing, they ask, “Are you alright?” They say it in a very casual way, just as we would ask, “How are you?” A majority of the time they respond with a one-word response of “ya.” Even when I thank my home-stay mom for dinner, I can tell she gets a little uncomfortable if I compliment her too much.
One of my favorite things to do with my home-stay family is to watch their favorite TV shows with them. Just last night we watched Britain’s Got Talent. The show is set up the same way as America’s Got Talent, but the winner of this show gets to perform for the Queen. The judges and the contestants were all very good and entertaining. I found it interesting that the show was very similar to that of the American version, the only big difference was the accents.
I am truly enjoying my time here listening to the accents and learning the differences between our two languages.