Friday, March 24, 2006

Going Native (Part II)

It's more than just the language that separates the US and the UK. There is a different mind-set, a different way of thinking over here. It is, for instance, considered a nice day even if it is raining outside because it could be snowing. If it is snowing, it is considered nice because the power could go out, etc.

The British that I have met seem to have this positive outlook, well at least the seem to have the outlook that things could always be worse. They're a little like my relatives and acquaintances back in Minnesota in this respect. "Not too bad..." is a good thing; as is " could be worse!"

I believe that there are things that become ingrained (like a splinter in your finger) as you spend time in an area. I think I am becoming more and more acclimated to the country and the people the longer I stay here.

The other night, I was recounting a story whose humor hinged upon the fact that the driver of the vehicle in the story makes a sudden, un-signaled turn across the on-coming traffic. (I may tell the story at some future date in my blog but as it is tangential to the story, I will just say that it is a good one!) I reached the punch-line and got the appropriate response.

It took me a couple seconds to realize that my audience came to the humor of the story too quickly. It was then that I realized that I had said in the story that the guy had "...made a right through the junction..." rather than "...had turned left..."

It's little things like coming to think of the backwards way that they do things here (in reference to the way we do things in the states) as normal that makes me fear that I am going native. I didn't set out to go native, it just sort-of happened. One day, I realized that I was a couple coppers short for the produce I was buying at the greengrocer and would have to change a note and realized that the language was insinuating itself into my head.

The day I realized I was queuing up for a space on the tube, I knew that I was on that long and slippery slope. But the other night was a real shock. Not only is the language making in-roads, so is the behavior! What next? Will I start making-up words as I speak? Will I start throwing extra letters into words like "Colour?" Will I start pronouncing syllables that do not exist in word (like pronouncing Aluminum as "all-you-MIN-ee-um?" Or worse yet, just ignore all the letters that I don't have time for? (Okay, guys, before I go completely native, they pronounce Worcestershire "wooster" and Leicester as "lester.")

I have a cousin from Minnesota who moved to the south that once made the observation that southerners average the length of their words, chopping an entire syllable out of "Alabama" when they say it, but pronouncing "Grits" as if it were a two-syllable word. I think Londoners are pretty-much the same.

The phrase "going native," ironically, enough, was first used by the British as a slight on their fellow countrymen who traveled abroad and became so assimilated in the place and culture of their new surroundings so as to be indistinguishable from the indigenous peoples. This insult was specifically applied to those whose travels took them (and kept them) in what were considered culturally backward parts of the world. Those who had "gone native" rarely wanted to return to London. I still miss home, though, so I guess I am not really going native. I guess, I am just becoming comfortable with the idiosyncrasies I see around me every day.

I hope that wherever today finds you, you are comfortable with your surroundings.

Don Bergquist - 24-March-2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, United Kingdom

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