Monday, April 18, 2011

(For Sunday Scribblings, ABC Wednesday and Magpie 62)
"N" as in "No, thank you."
This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me of a much-needed meal I nearly missed a few decades ago.
I was waiting about for a couple of weeks in Sydney, Australia, while they repaired a huge hole in my ship that resulted when my vessel ran smack-dab into the Great Barrier Reef.
Being young – yes, this was some time ago :-) – my main interest was in meeting a nice Australian girl. And I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of just the right person, an attractive and intelligent young lady named, IIRC, Mabel.
We got along well. So well that after a week or so she invited me home for a meal and to meet her mum and dad. I resolved to be on my best behavior.
Things didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.
I believe it was Winston Churchill who famously said that Britain and America are two nations separated by a single language. Well, Yanks and Aussies were separated in the same way and I imagine they still are. Mabel and her family spoke English, but they had their version and I had mine.
Here’s what happened.
As I sat in the living-room, attempting to look respectable, Mabel’s mom – er, mum – looked in from the kitchen and asked, “Will you take tea?”
I was hungry, but I don’t usually have tea with my meals, so I said, “No, thank you.”
I continued sitting there, like a lump on a bog, and as time went on the unmistakable sounds of people eating came from the next room. I couldn’t believe it. They were going ahead with the meal without me!
I gradually realized what had happened.

When we say “tea,” we picture something like the above.
But throughout greater Britain, “tea” often meant that kind of tea, yes, but it also meant a light afternoon or evening meal, usually served around four o’clock.

The above, for us, would be a couple of eggs, sunnyside, with toast, a breakfast. To Australians, perhaps more in those days than today, it could also be “tea.”
So when the lady of the house had looked in on me to ask, “Will you take tea?” she wasn’t asking if I liked a cup of tea with whatever I was going to eat; what she was actually saying was, “Please come in and sit down; we want you to join us for our afternoon meal.”
And I had said no. Here I thought I was going to shine with this family, but they probably were saying to themselves: h'mm -- another of those weird Americans they had heard about. Poor Mabel must have been embarrassed that she had brought home such a bone-head to meet her folks. I finally got up and went quietly in to sit at the table, trying not to look too foolish.
I am pleased to get a lot of friendly U K and Australian visitors to my blog, and I’m sure they all have their own stories about Americans and the English language that separates us. :-)

38 comments:

versebender said...

really enjoyed this story. It is amazing how the same language communicates different things. Vb

Leslie: said...

This is hilarious! When I took my daughter to England some years back, she promptly bought herself a little pocket notebook in which she wrote down English versus Canadian words. She also found out that even though some words are the same, the pronunciation is different.
Garage = in Canadian = gar AHGZ
Garage = in England = GARE agz

Little Ms Blogger said...

Okay, that was funny, but proves how we shouldn't assume things are the same as we know them to be in another country.

Friko said...

So, did you own up in the end and get something to eat?

Reflections said...

Used to make those same mistakes visiting a friend here in the States... she was from there and still did the afternoon tea.

Helen said...

Your Magpie Tale is charming .. I can only imagine how you felt ~ with all that egg on your face!

Tumblewords: said...

How funny! I think we are often separated by language - even in the same country...

Kay L. Davies said...

Wonderful story. Language barriers in the same language.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Isabel Doyle said...

even Australians have problems in the UK - my husband was trying to stop a waitress giving him gravy, and he kept saying 'I'm right, I'm right', which means 'thank you I've had enough', but to the young lady must have meant 'more, more',
nice tale - I missed the Bard though

ninotaziz said...

And while I was born in Australia, I admit I would have to learn all the dos and don'ts if I ever revisit!

And yet, priorities are still the same all the world over. Girl meets boy. Boy meets the family.

Underneath, it is still one big global village.

Berowne said...

Isabel D.: "I missed the Bard, though."
He'll be back. :-)

Roger Owen Green said...

Ha! Yes, I finally figured out about tea at my trip to Barbados in 1999!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Wanda said...

Oh what a fun read. Totally enjoyed your delightful "Tea" time!!

Ann Grenier said...

Very enjoyable story, one of those unforgettable embarrassing moments---

Jane and Chris said...

That was too funny!
Jane x (A transplanted Brit in Canada who still has to check herself when talking to either Brits/Canucks).
P.S. Missed the Bard too, although the above scene was very Bardish.

kris... said...

Ah, that's a great story!

Lucy Westenra said...

Excellent! Tic-Tac-Toe. Now is that "noughts and crosses" or a serious foot condition!

Berowne said...

Jane and Chris: "Jane, a transplanted Brit in Canada who still has to check herself..."
You mean cheque herself..? :-)

Berowne said...

versebender: "Really enjoyed this story." Leslie: "Hilarious!" Helen: "Your Magpie Tale is charming." Tumblewords: "How funny!" Kay L D: "Wonderful story."
My sincere thanks to all for some really great comments.

Andy said...

Oh, I can't stop laughing! I have some of those same language barriers even now...my wife is English and sometimes what she says means something completely different to me (and it's been 12 years!). She'll say crisps, meaning potato chips or biscuits, meaning cookies.
I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.

Gigi Ann said...

I finally figured out the tea thing when I was reading "Anne of Green Gables." Funny story, it was my chuckle for the day. ; )

EG Wow said...

OH DEAR! I'm so glad you decided to join them when you realized your mistake. :)

Jane and Chris said...

Ha ha!
Jane x

Francisca said...

Oh yeah! I get this big time. There are special dictionaries to explain English differences: British, American, Canadian and Australian. Now I've also had to learn Chinglish (Chinese-English) and Taglish (Tagalog-English). And I'm sure there are others, like Indian English. Words matter, yet how often we miss the point. LOL!

Meryl said...

Great post! Really does make you think of the power of language, dialects and customs!

HyperCRYPTICal said...

Oh the joys of a common language! When moving South to North in England as a child - 'twas like a foreign tongue! Couldn't understand what the hell they were talking about!

Dialects have now become smudged and life (and understanding) is much easier - but sister-in-law and family live in the midlands and local idioms still leave me perplexed!

Anna :o]

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

That was a great story. We went all the way to Bermuda for TEA.
QMM

Barb said...

Great story and I can totally relate. I've been in this country that long that when I go home downunder I sub in American words! That's when I get the disgusted stare and the unspoken 'bloody skite!' trans: obnoxious show off.

Steve Isaak said...

Good post. =)

Berowne said...

Steve I., Barb, Peggy, Anna, Meryl, Francisca, E G Wow, Gigi Ann and Andy -- thanks for some encouraging comments.

jaerose said...

Hi Berowne..a cucumber sandwich of a post (delicious and refreshing)..English language is a tricky beast..heaven only knows what 'high-tea' is and I am from the UK..and it changes all the time..we pick up American words..you use words we have forgotten..Australians that's a whole other kettle of fish..bonza! Jae

honeyhaiku said...

Like it, a fun read. Funny how much the same language differs in usage.

Berowne said...

jaerose: "Australians, that's a whole other kettle of fish..bonza! Jae"
I'll never forget Benny Hill as an Aussie. He had a "digger" hat and greeted everyone with: "Good on ya, Cobblers!"

Lilibeth said...

Oh all those does and dont's of language are hilarious...such a great world with people in it who mean something entirely different. I loved your story.

Berowne said...

Lilibeth: "I loved your story."
And I loved your comment. :-)

oldegg said...

What a great lesson you learned. What a great tale you have told. Who said language was a great communicator?

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, it's so true. English is the language of so many countries, but I believe we should call ours "American," perhaps, because it's all about conceptions and colloquialisms. Loved this story of crossed linguistic wires. Hell, I love all your stories! Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/new-to-this-church-easter-2011/

Catalyst said...

Good as ever, Berowne. I enjoyed both stories.

 
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