Monday, October 19, 2015

We're All Speaking the Same Language, Sort Of - Erich

Some have said we are jumping into the deep end with this travel, starting in South Africa. I suppose that compared to some places, that is true. But in many ways, South Africa is still sort of getting our feet wet. It is somewhat America-ish.

For one thing, it is a reasonably well developed country. There are traditional grocery stores and malls. There is public transportation. And it is something of a tourist destination, so seeing an American is no big whoop. But most of all, most everyone here speaks English; the same language, right? Well, not exactly.

We often find that though we know someone is speaking English, even though we recognize some of the words as English, we find it very difficult to understand the accent. It's not a British accent, but a distinctly South African one. But that oversimplifies things. Because not everyone in South Africa has the same accent.

I can only imagine that we are as hard to understand for them, though they seem to have no troubles knowing what I'm asking. Until it comes to certain words.

Have you ever noticed that the British (and by extension places that got their English from Great Britain) have some different words for things than we do. And often, they are words we use for something else. It has made me wonder about some of these.

What an American calls...
The British (and South Africans) call...
So what do the British call what an American would call...
My best guess...
French Fries
From the experiences I have had so far, they seem to call them chips. How they know which chips they mean is a matter of context.
Maybe they don't have that kind of baked good. I haven't seen them.
A pharmacist
A chemist
A chemist
Not a clue.
Jelly (this may not be British, I don't know, but it is certainly South African)
Well, so far in the stores we have only seen things called jam. Maybe there is no distinction here between jam and jelly.
I haven't yet seen a pudding quite the same as what we call pudding. Maybe they call it custard. Maybe they call it pudding.

Also, I wonder if some of the idioms we use must be changed here. Do you walk a kilometre in another man's shoes? Is a gram of prevention worth a kilogram of cure? Is it ever so hot that it feels like 43.333333333 in the shade? If you're in for a penny, are you in for a... wait, that one is a British phrase. And we don't change it in the U.S. Maybe they don't change it here either. Or maybe they do. That phrase doesn't come up that often in my correspondence with South Africans.

And sometimes you don't realize that a word here isn't what you know and love at home. We were surprised to learn that napkins aren't napkins, they are serviettes. Which I guess is good, because you wouldn't want to ask your waitress for a napkin, she thinks you want a nappy, and that amuses her, because that's their word for diaper.

I guess a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Good news, roses are called roses here.) So we just have to learn as we go. No turning back now. We went in for a penny, so I guess we're in for, well, a rand.

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