Today I am thrilled to welcome my guest, Jenny Twist. Hailing from the UK, Jenny seems to have discovered a language barrier when communicating with her American friends, and I don’t think she is alone here!
“England and America are two countries separated by a common language” – George Bernard Shaw
Until last year, when I started making lots of American friends, I had no idea how true that quote was. It not so much that we have different words for things. It’s that we use the same words to mean something completely different. For instance, an American might be quite shocked to hear an Englishman say, “I’m just going outside for a fag.” when he only means he wants a cigarette. And it can be equally embarrassing the other way round. The word fanny may be slightly vulgar in America, but it’s downright rude in England, where it is a euphemism for a woman’s private parts. The first time I heard the American usage was in a radio interview with a recently divorced starlet, in which she said she first realised her marriage was going wrong when he stopped patting her on the fanny. I was shocked rigid! She said fanny! On the BBC!
And then there’s all the things you have in America that we don’t have in England like Independence Day and Thanksgiving and English muffins (I have yet to meet an English person who knows what an English muffin is!).
But we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that you don’t have Pancake Tuesday, the Royal Family or faggots (a kind of meatball made from liver and served in a very rich gravy).
But the thing that worries me most is the English sense of humour. It is based on sarcasm. We often say the exact opposite of what we mean because we find it amusing, as in “Isn’t it a lovely day!” to describe a passing hurricane.
And we think it’s funny to insult each other. A dear friend of mine, on being pursued by a rather unattractive man and having tried to put him off several times, retaliated with, “I admire your taste, but I’m afraid I find you repulsive!” I didn’t stop laughing for days!
And that same friend couldn’t stop laughing when a work colleague said to her, “Haven’t you got a lot of freckles? Disfiguring, aren’t they?”
I am so afraid I’m going to get carried away and say something sarcastic to one of my lovely new American friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted an email or a comment at the last-minute because I suddenly realised that only an English person would know it was supposed to be funny.
So I would like to say RIGHT NOW, if I have ever said anything to anyone that was insulting, blasphemous or just downright rude, that I didn’t mean it. Honest. I thought I was being funny. I can’t help it. I’m English.
Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.
You can find out more about Jenny Twist here: