living in between and the linguistic revelations of reverse culture shock

by Anna Blanch on April 3, 2012

I don’t write shopping lists the way I once did.

Some where along the way bell peppers replaced capsicum and courgettes for zucchini, Cilantro for Coriander, and although eggplant and aubergine are used interchangeably and snow peas will forever be snow peas and not mange tout. Do I say ‘one peter’ or ‘first peter’ – i don’t remember anymore. Gas and petrol, sidewalk, footpath, pavement, boot, trunk, trash, garbage, school, college, uni, grades, marks….cell, mobile…these words and what they signify have come to be jumbled in my head – I mirror the people I’m with, being more concerned about not causing them dissonance than hanging on to my own dialect anymore. Especially not in English. I can spell and use the appropriately different grammar in British, American and Australian English. Don’t get me started on my french or german, however (my accent in the latter particularly isn’t great) – there I just hold for dear life and hope I don’t look or sound like a fool.

It isn’t just the the language of the quotidian that has changed for me,  it s the realisation that I don’t instinctively know which way to look when I cross the street…so i look both ways, all the time. Even still, sometimes I second guess myself and hope I’ve looked the right way.

I am an inbetweener.

When I wake up in the morning it is late in the evening UK time and i hurriedly answer emails from colleagues so that projects can continue. The US is further behind, but this feeling of being ahead of the world is a slightly unsettling one – as if i’m waiting for them all to catch up to the day i’ve been enjoying – though slumbering – for a good 6 hours or more.

But it is probably the sounds of this land and this city that have struck me the most.

The sounds of the birds raucously heralding the day and bidding it farewell make it rare that there is silence. Silence that seemed to envelope the cottage-by-the-sea is almost a distant memory. The early hours of the morning, before the birds are awake or the trucks rumble on the nearby highway is a precious time.

The Australian accent has been ring in my ears and echoing in my the hollow chambers of my brain for the last ten days.

It is almost overwhelming…..and I have one.

Well, I have one of sorts.

As I’m asked, queried, if I’m English, Scottish, or still more commonly American I wonder when did my accent become this mangled.

Or is it?

Those close to me assure me that I still sound the same to them. But I think they’ve long stopped noticing I even have an accent.

Or have just grown used to my mangled mess of one.

To be honest, I can’t hear it.

But when I hear ‘this arvo’ or ‘mates’ or ‘sunnies’ or ‘breaky’ or a group of aussie men, blokes all, talking about the ‘footy being on later’ it slams against me. It is like a clanging between my ears.

The notion of being not being an expat and the transition of being an Australia who does in fact live in Australia is going to take some time, helped I hope by the traveling will will take me from the shores only to return me unceremoniously back again. Observing your own culture as an outsider is a rare bird indeed.

It feels unusual, but comforting to live in a place where my sister and I are noticed as sisters, that we look alike enough for people to notice this before they see us together, or even to confuse us for one another. It’s been half a decade since this kind of thing was even possible. So too, at the race registration the other day, when I noticed that another runner had the same surname. I was the only person in the last two cities I lived in – totalling close to 350,000 people – to have my last name. Small, though it is, and as distantly related as I might be to that other runner, it reminds me that this where i’m from.

In the meantime this Baylor bear is going to relish being able to work for home today so that I won’t bother anyone when I loudly cheer for the Baylor Lady Bears in their NCAA national championship game against Notre Dame. I wouldn’t miss it for anything, no matter what country I was in. At least being in Australia I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to watch it!


Life: UnmaskedThought it feels like alot of my posts lately have been life unmasked! I warned you it might get a little Dear diary around here for a while, this post is actually officially my sixth Life Unmasked post for 2012. In addition to my fifth, Before the birds are awake, my fourth, Blessed are the encouragers, the third, Sleepless in the PhD wilderness, and second for this year, A naked theologian, you may find my last life:unmasked post for 2011, A journeywoman, and my first for 2012, I’m an inbetweener of interest. All my 2011 Life unmasked can be found on this handy list. You can thank Joy of Joy’s Journey for pushing me to get involved in this weekly foray into ‘writing naked.’

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  • Findo

    Once, teaching in London, my wife told a kid who had washed his hands and couldn’t find a towel, to “just wipe them on your pants”. Who’d have thought the meaning could be so different!

    • Goannatree

       yeah that one i was still messing up on days before leaving scotland! It’s a fabulous way to offend old ladies at church accidentally!

      • Joy in this Journey

        What does that mean in London?!??

        • Goannatree

           While in the US pants = slacks/trousers, in the Uk, pants = undergarments. It can lead to some awkward situations, especially when speaking with someone who isn’t aware of the US definition of ‘pants’.

          • Joy in this Journey

            *smirk* That is hilarious. What do the English call pants? Trousers? Slacks (what a weird word for pants!)?

          • Findo

            Reminds me of a conversation I had with a Brit, telling him that what they call ‘crisps’ we simply called ‘chips’. He asked what we would then call hot chips… to which I replied, rather obviously: “hot chips” 😀

          • Goannatree

            and then there’s the conversation about jam……and jelly…and marmalade…

          • Goannatree

             Slacks is a word that gets used in australia for women’s trousers. of the three, *pants* is the only one that is used as a mild declamatory….that’s *pants* – it’s a quite polite way of saying something’s not good.

    • Goannatree

       oh no…

  • Joy in this Journey

    This is fascinating, Anna. I’m glad you’re writing it down. One of my friends just moved to Auckland and is learning all the little differences there. It will be interesting to see how it goes if/when she returns home.

    • Goannatree

       It’s an interesting proposition to write how I’m feeling down. It feels quite vulnerable – and i’m certainly not giving everything away – but it’s a good way to record how I’m feeling through the process. I’m sure you’re friend will deal with her own re-entry issues!

  • Bex Lewis

    I had a (female/English) friend who went to the States for a term, and some guy said could he sleep on her floor “I’ll keep my pants on” … She, very shocked, said “I hope you will” (or words to that effect) before realising what he meant! LOL!

    • Goannatree


  • Bex Lewis

    The ‘elephant in the room’: Thongs; Flip-Flops!

    • Goannatree

       To be honest, i never got used to flip flops. But, it was too cold to wear thongs/flip flops in scotland so that one never got me in trouble!

      • Findo

        beanies and singlets are not hats and vests, either.

        • Goannatree

           vests has an entirely different meaning for me, involving fleece!

          • Findo

            Right!  A Bonds ‘vest’ makes no sense.

          • Goannatree

             although strangely when I went to buy some for a friend with a newborn they were in fact labelled “vests”

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