Today, grateful for expat friends,
Separated by A Common Language (or Everything Tastes Like Chicken)By: Betsy
I came to London to pursue an MA in autumn 2009 and, after a brief hiatus in DC for a job offer, returned to London to work in June 2010; I have lived in London for 17 of the past 27 months. I identify as a Washingtonian, as a Londoner, and definitely as an expatriate, and I don't think that there's any contradiction in belonging to more than one place at a time. That being said, sometimes the intersection of different cultures, homes, and languages can prove a bit tricky...
Earlier this January, I caught a flight to New York to spend a long weekend with my grandmother, who is very unwell. (As my family is Jewish and doesn't celebrate Christmas, my big annual trip to my parents' house falls over Thanksgiving, and so this jaunt was unplanned though unfortunately not entirely unexpected.) My mother and sister and I went out to lunch for Thai food on my first day in Manhattan where, surprisingly, I hit a snafu.
I had decided to order the shrimp pad see ew, but when the waitress came by I realized that I had completely forgotten the word for "shrimp." The only word I could think of was "prawn," which is generally what "shrimp" are called in the UK. I grasped around my mind, but simply could not come up with "shrimp." For some reason, I grabbed the closest word I could think of that an American might understand: chicken.
"But, Betsy," my sister said, confused, "didn't you say you wanted it with shrimp?"
"Yes!" I gasped. "Shrimp! I want the shrimp pad see ew!"
Everyone - the waitress included - looked at me, bewildered as to why this had been so difficult for me and why I seemed to have needed my sister to translate.
When I explained later, my mother and sister laughed, but didn't see it as a big deal. It might not be, in the grand scheme of things, but it shook me up a bit because I thought I had been able to firmly compartmentalize my American and English lives and I was proved mistaken. I did see the humor in the situation, though, and finally I truly understood that English and American are not always the same language!