Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Am I British yet?


Nope. Not even close. Apparently a hardcore southern drawl, acquired when I was approximately half as old as I am now, doesn’t go away easily. And that’s a good thing, because I really do love my sweet home Alabama – and the accent that goes with it. To be honest, it’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to either – people still assume that I’m American and with the abundance of accents and dialects found in this city, I don’t really stand out. But in the last few days, two things have happened that made me think about it after all.
First, one if my dear friends from Alabama made a comment about my use of the word brilliant. And I thought, is that a particularly British word? I decided that it might very well be, but it’s also a very good word, so there you go. Moving on. Until last night, when one of the clever people I follow on Twitter tweeted the following: I think all Americans are allowed one British-ism. Some say ‘bloody’ or sign off with ‘cheers’. I tend to overuse ‘brilliant’. What’s yours? And I thought; where do I tick the box for all of the above?
I use ‘bloody’ a lot. Because it’s a good word. It lets you put some emphasis on what you’re saying – without swearing. Bloody isn’t a swearword. It’s just a funny expression that the British use. Similarly wonderful words are ‘bugger’ and ‘sod it’. A cute British way of saying that something sucks. Interestingly enough, if you look up the etymology of those two expressions, you’ll find that in their original meaning, they’re not exactly cute. Actually, they are very profane. But to me, they’re just swearwords-that-aren’t-swearwords. They remind me of my high school art teacher Mrs. Manning, who would always make up harmless versions of swearwords – a lot like those impeccably groomed housewives of the 1960’s, trying to impart manners on their children.  To me, that’s the epitome of bugger.
I also say ‘flat’ instead of apartment. Because if I say apartment, it makes me sound like I’m incredibly pretentious and want the world to know that I live in a brand-spanking-new, fully serviced penthouse. I don’t. I live in a lovely flat in Angel.
I try to remember to say trousers instead of ‘pants. Because apparently, pants are underwear. And so are suspenders. Which, in the British, non-underwear version, are called braces. See why I’m confused? That’s why, more often than not, I forget to say trousers instead of pants. And I’m not even going to get into the whole chips/crisps/fries debacle…
On a less language-related note, I have become quite efficient at navigating London traffic without ending up as road kill: driving on the left side of the road doesn’t seem outrageously wrong anymore – well, at least not when I’m walking or on a bus. Put me in a car, and it’s a completely different story. Also, I have learned to completely disregard the colors on traffic lights and just check for cars instead – but that’s probably not particularly British, it might just be a London-thing. However, I haven’t yet taken to the British habit of referring to Europe as a concept that is as distant as the moon – because despite popular belief (and the whole island-and-big-body-of-water-business) I’m pretty sure that the UK is still a part of Europe. But maybe that’s just me.
So even with jaywalking and upside-down traffic all sorted out, it appears that my southern accent is still intact. However, I will admit that it is experiencing a somewhat confused vocabulary these days – some words have just crept into my brain without letting me know about it, others are chosen consciously because they are adorably British. Or simply because they don’t mean underwear.

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