Greetings to you all, most splendid listeners! I have acquired a few more of you since my last post on being cheerful had the glorious fortune to be Freshly Pressed; and, as the majority of you are either from my own humble Englandland or from across the pond in Americaland, I shall say hello in both languages:
English: Good day to you, my old chums! Salutations and hello there!
American: Yo, bud! Waassuuuuuuup??? Hey y’all, how YOU doin’???
If you excellent Americans have gleaned from the above that we English think you actually talk like that all the time and that you are a nation of Budweiser-swigging, gangsta-Paula Deen-Joey-from-Friends incarnations, then you are sadly correct.
You see, we in Englandland just can’t grasp your language. Yes we know it’s essentially the same language as ours, but there are such monumental differences, my American pals, such crucial and paramount disparities that we just can’t cope with.
You have no idea how a simple greeting from you can throw us English into blind panic.
We have literally no idea how to answer this question. Do you even mean it as a question? Is it rhetorical?
If it’s rhetorical, you need to tell us. We are a great nation, but we cannot handle a question so early into a conversation.
This language barrier has also prevented potentially millions of English people from getting jobs in America. Ever wondered why there are so few English people working in your office? This is due to a simple yet crucial difference in the language of architecture: your buildings start on the first floor and move up to the second. Our buildings start on the ground floor and move up to the first. Do you know how many job interviews have been missed, how many hopes and dreams have been slashed, due to this massively important difference?
But sometimes, America, you’re not just content with moving floors around, you take a word that we can cope with, that we think we understand and you make it mean something else! At school I read the entire To Kill A Mockingbird weeping at the injustice of inequality, rejoicing at the vigour of the human spirit, revelling in the beauty of the writing, and wondering incessantly what the hell Scout was talking about when she mentioned her bangs.
Listener, I did not learn what bangs were until about a year ago. For those of my fellow Englishmen who still have no notion: bangs means fringe. As in, the hair that covers our foreheads.
No, I have no idea how they came up with bangs, either.
But bangs is nothing. Nothing, I tell you.
NOTHING compared to the brilliantly astounding lost-in-translation moment that accompanies an American talking about their fanny.
**Pause to allow my English listeners to smirk quietly to themselves.**
You see, America, we English find the fact that you use the word ‘fanny’ to mean ‘bottom’, unfathomably amusing. I recently told the lovely Lizzy from Big Body Beautiful that I had finally come to like my rather rotund bottom. Lizzy beautifully replied that she was delighted that I was ‘sending pleasing thoughts to my fanny’. This amused me tremendously.
Oh, America. You wear fanny packs. You sit on your fanny. You want your fanny to be bigger / smaller / thinner / plumper / wider / juicier (enjoying this, England?) – and we English at first gape open-mouthed, and then laugh and laugh and laugh.
Because here in England, fanny does not mean bottom. Here in England, fanny means
THAT is why we find a nice American girl saying she’s been working on her fanny to try and tone it up insanely amusing. It is also why I was tormented for years by the aching, unanswerable question of why the hell anyone would invent a fanny pack.
And as for the biscuit debacle. Well. How do you think we feel when we see American breakfast menus advertising biscuits and gravy? It throws us into turmoil. A nice, sweet digestive biscuit covered in gravy??? Are they demented??? Our biscuits are your cookies. Would you want your cookies smothered in gravy? Of course you wouldn’t. That is why the concept both startles and repels us. And what about the Great Chips / Fries palaver? We go to America and order steak and chips expecting this:
And instead get this:
But perhaps the greatest example of a potentially fatal translation problem comes from a friend who had the following conversation with a policeman (or police officer, if you will) in Manhattan, New York, at around midnight. In the late ’80s.
True story, Listener. True story.
So, my lovely American buddies, the next time an English person chortles manically when you say you’ve got an itchy fanny, or gapes bemusedly when you say you need to straighten your bangs, or whispers ‘Sss’ when you say ‘Do the Math’ (it’s Maths, America, Maths), you know why. We’re not being rude, we’re just confused.