If you’re an ardent traveller, you’ll be familiar with what’s probably one of the most important unspoken rules of travelling etiquette (in my opinion, that is): at least make a cursory attempt to speak the language.
I suppose this doesn’t apply so much if you’re travelling to a popular destination in Europe, such as the Balearic Islands. Staff and locals of the more popular tourist regions are often well-versed in English, French, Italian, German and (of course) Spanish, so as to better accommodate their clientele. You should have little problem getting your message across.
When you’re journeying off the beaten track, however, it can be vital to have a rudimentary grasp of the language. For obvious reasons of communication, but also as a courtesy to the natives. You don’t want to be one of those people who simply repeat their requests more loudly and slowly, as though that will translate what you’re trying to say, do you?
It’s not a simple, broad question of languages, though. Sometimes, regional dialects come into play. English, for instance, is one of the most commonly-spoken languages in the world, but that doesn’t mean fellow English speakers can’t trip you up.
Visitors from England to the US, say, will quickly find that their English and the US English can be vastly different. It’s not just a case of a few missing ‘U’s, friends. On that note, hop on board and let’s check out 20 distinct Americanisms that you’ll want to keep in mind before you visit the States.
20 "Going Up!"
Speaking as a foreigner, I can totally appreciate how this came about. In the United States, this handy-dandy box for quickly traversing floors of buildings is called an elevator. Because it elevates the user(s). I see what they were getting at, and I respect it.
In the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and parts of South Africa, on the other hand, we use the simple term lift instead. The French word for elevator is ascenseur, while the people of Germany call it a höhenruder. Simple names for a simple concept, all in all, referring to the basic principle of being lifted upwards.
19 Just Popping The Hood
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but here in 2018, the world’s gone a little shonky. I passed a newsstand this morning, and saw about seven different headlines that made me almost want to cancel my subscription to life for 2019.
These days, it’s more important than ever to come together, to put aside these insignificant differences that divide us. Differences like, what’s the back of a car called?
In the United States, this is called the trunk. The people of South-East Asia call it a/the compartment, while in Britain we call it the boot. According to Adrian Flux, the term boot was originally meant literally, as early coaches needed a compartment for storing one’s boots.
18 Would You Like A Side Salad With That?
Once again, it’s tough to really find any arguments for this one. The term sidewalk is, after all, just perfect for describing a path by the side of the road to walk on. It’s direct, it does exactly what it says on the tin… how can you argue with that? You dang well can’t, that’s how.
Nevertheless, it’s an Americanism that has never really caught on elsewhere. In the UK, this path tends to be called the pavement (a term also used in parts of the Mid-Atlantic US). Legally, it’s also known by the terms footpath or footway, just to complicate things a little further. The Ancient Romans, who made the first elaborate sidewalks/pavements, called them semitas, according to Rome Art Lover.
17 So… Soda?
Now, this is where things really start to get a little out of control. Buckle up, friends, because there are many, many terms for this humble drink.
So, what are we looking at here? In much of the US, this is simply a soda, and that’s the end of it. There’s much more to it than that, though, even locally. As The Boston Globe reports, in the Midwest, pop was the preferred term, while Southerners used the genericised coke. Bostonians, meanwhile, used the term tonic, though that’s in a strict decline now.
Over in the UK and Australia, fizzy drink is the popular term, or the standard soft drink. In South Africa and India, they opt for cool drink or cold drink.
Wow. I think I need a soft/fizzy/cold/cool drink, just trying to get my head around all these terms.
16 The Great Ketchup Kerfuffle
If you thought there was a whole heaping heckola of a lot of terms for soda, you’d better prepare yourself for this. There are… well, not as many different names for ketchup, but still. There are more than enough to be getting on with.
In the US and Canada, ketchup is the most common term, though some southern states prefer catsup. The UK and Australia often opt for the simple tomato sauce, referring to ketchup as a specific brand. Wales and Scotland often simplify this to red sauce, which is not to be confused with a range of literally tomato-based pasta sauces used elsewhere.
As for the word ketchup itself, the South China Morning Post suggests that it comes from the Cantonese keh jup, which literally means tomato sauce.
15 Apart(ment) From That, It Makes Sense
It’s curious how you can become accustomed to certain words and phrases. As for myself, I grew up on a diet of fantastic US sitcoms like Friends and Frasier, so words like apartment just naturally become part of my vocabulary.
Elsewhere in the world, the terms for these self-contained homes are very different. An apartment block is a block of flats here in the UK, or simply flats. Further complicating matters, some areas use both terms, with apartment meaning a new building made for that purpose and flat referring to a converted home in another building (a bigger house, for instance).
In Australia, the term is often unit, which again is used differently depending on the area and context.
14 A Parking… What?
Here’s another frequent stumbling blocks for US visitors to Britain (and vice versa). As is often the case with the language differences, it’s quite a subtle thing, really, but it’s still completely alien to those on the other side of the pond.
What are we looking at in this image? If you’re from the US, you’ll surely call it a parking lot, while those in England among us will know it by the term car park. If that isn’t enough for you, there’s more. As Grammarist reports, a parking garage is a parking lot that occupies multiple floors, while England's equivalent is a multi-storey car park.
13 Sneakers: For Sneaking
Now, granted, The Simpsons may have taught us that sneakers were designed for sneaking (in season 5’s ‘Homer the Vigilante’), but it doesn’t need to be as literal as that. This is the most popular US term for comfortable, casual, everyday athletics shoes, but there are many more all around the world.
In the UK, we call them trainers. Less common UK terms include sandshoes, daps and tennis shoes; while in Nigeria the term is canvas shoes. In the Philippines, rubber shoes is a popular name, while the United States have several other terms themselves, including kicks and skids.
What an etymological world tour that was.
12 The Curious Case Of The Cart
As we’ve just seen, then, sneakers probably take the prize of most synonyms for anything ever. The humble shopping cart is certainly a contender too, though, with a fascinating range of names itself.
In much of Britain, we call it a shopping trolley or simply trolley. Smaller, handheld ones are called baskets, as they are in both regions. In some Southern states, it’s instead called a buggy, while the people of New Zealand prefer the name trundler. In New York and Hawaii, wagon is used, while in Scotland they often call them coohuddler or barrae.
Whatever you call it, though, one thing’s for certain: it’s going to have at least one dang wheel that will not cooperate, sending it careening into the tangerine display at the store.
11 When You’ve Just Got To Vacate The Office For A While
As I say, I may be from England, but there are certain Americanisms I totally prefer to their UK counterparts. Here’s one of them now.
In England and Australia, primarily, vacations are instead called holidays. Naturally, this can be confused with public holidays, such as Thanksgiving. The term vacation caught on after the rich and famous of New York City started to develop luxurious summer homes in the Adirondacks. They would declare that they were vacating their usual homes for a while, and so the term stuck with those who strove to imitate them.
So, there we go. Interestingly, the opposite is true in the UK, where vacation used to be the popular term.
10 Grocery Store Grumbling
Here’s another unique one. Over here in Britain, groceries and grocers are a very different concept. We have greengrocers, which are fruits-and-vegetables stores. Except they’re not stores, they’re shops.
We don’t tend to refer to our shopping as groceries, but simply shopping. The term’s familiar enough to be used at times, of course, but it doesn’t tend to be the widespread choice. It’s just one of those pernickety things, I guess; everyone understands each other perfectly well but there are all kinds of gripes over it nonetheless. You know, like those people who see a simple grammatical error in a post and land on it like a sumo wrestler jumping from a tenth-floor window onto a grape.
9 It’s Football, Jim, But Not As We Know It
That’s right, friends. It is time. Here it is, one of the most controversial English language differences of all. Just what exactly is football, again?
To hear the folks in the UK tell it, association football, the most popular sport in the world, is the true football. In North America, meanwhile, football is a very different game, and association football is referred to as soccer. In New Zealand, football refers to rugby union, and in Australia, football, or footy, is Aussie Rules Football.
In French-speaking Quebec, Canadian football is the more popular game, and referred to as le football while association football is termed le soccer. It’s a complex business, isn’t it?
8 Just How Many Different Things Can You Do With Potatoes?
If football versus soccer is one of the more controversial battles of the English language, then this one is right up there too. Tell me, where do you stand in the chips versus crisps debate?
In the United States, chips are a much-beloved snack food, like Doritos, Kettle chips or suchlike. In Britain, however, these are called crisps. Chips, here, are fried slice of potato, which are referred to as fries in the United States.
That might sound simple enough, but we don’t want to make it too easy for each other, do we? Just to complicate things a little further, we do still have fries in the UK, but the name is only usually used for particularly thin chips.
7 Can’t We Just Go Shopping?
When it comes to those crucial language differences, as we’ve seen, a lot of them pertain to crucial aspects of everyday life. These are the things that you’ll have to memorise if you want to blend in with the locals of the UK/USA.
Shopping is an important one, as we’ve seen with the grocery stores and shopping carts we witnessed earlier. The next step up, then, would be to look at shopping malls, or shopping centres as they tend to be known in the UK.
Granted, we have shopping malls right here in Britain too, but they are usually named such because they’re inspired by (or part of) a large US shopping conglomerate.
6 Hi, School!
So, yes. We all remember those turbulent days of high school. It was a time of dramatic peaks and troughs, of lifelong friendships being forged and ill-advised relationships (which your parents tried to warn you about, naturally, but you knew better) coming to swift ends. It was hormones-amundo around here.
Interestingly, much of the world doesn’t call it high school at all. In Britain, the term secondary school is used. In Australia, it’s sometimes referred to as secondary college. In the Bahamas, it’s divided into junior high (grades 7-9) and senior high (grades 10-12). In Brunei, some are simply named maktab (college).
5 Cookie Cookie Cookie
Okay, let’s dial things down a little now. Let’s leave the big controversial issues like football aside for a moment, and take a look at something a little more light-hearted. Something like cookies.
Oh, wait, that doesn’t work either. The world can’t even agree on what a cookie is. Is it a biscuit? Is it a scone? Is it both, and neither, at the same time? The answer is yes, to all of the above.
In US English, a biscuit is what England calls a scone. A cookie, by contrast, is what a biscuit is called in the US. All three options are delicious, frankly, so you really can’t go wrong, but still. It’s a puzzler.
4 Dollar, Dollar Bills Y’All
Okay, so the cookie thing was a bust. In this time of great linguistic uncertainty, then, it’s time to call on one of the world’s greatest and wisest thinkers. Sadly, only Wyclef Jean was available at the time, so he’ll have to do.
As the wise man once sang, singin' dollar dollar bill y'all (dollar, dollar bill y'all). Unfortunately, that’s just something else we can’t settle on, as a bill has very different meanings over the pond. In Britain, paper money is referred to as a note (ie, a five-pound note), while a bill is an invoice. I don’t know what kinds of restaurants you go to, but I’ve never asked for money at the end of a meal.
3 The Super-Enigmatic Eggplant
And now, our regularly scheduled Amusing Anecdote™: Several years ago, I was playing pictionary with some friends, one of whom is from Canada. He stared, puzzled, at his word, before confessing that he had absolutely zero clue what an aubergine is (as a bonus, his attempt to pronounce the word was hilarious).
If you’re confused too, I’ll explain that aubergine is the UK word for eggplant. It’s also called brinjal in Asia and Africa, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
In the southern US, interestingly, it’s sometimes referred to as the guinea squash, or even mad-apple. Both of which are brilliant names, and I 100% condone them.
2 Courgette Confusion
We just don’t seem to be able to agree on our plant names, do we? Just when we’d started to get our poor, addled minds around the whole eggplant/aubergine debacle, another similar problem rears its head: what is this called?
Yet again, that’s a matter of where you live. If you’re British and you known your plants, you’ll recognise that you’re looking at a courgette. Or, sometimes, a marrow, as they’re also known in Singapore, Ireland, Scandinavia, South Africa and other regions. In the United States, meanwhile, another name has developed: zucchini. Which has a nice exotic zing to it, in my books.
1 When Pants Get Problematic
Now, you wouldn’t think that something so simple would be so complicated, but language can be a wild ride. Those jeans you’re wearing right now? There are about a billion different names for them. While they’d be called trousers in Britain, they would be pants in the United States. This would totally confound people in the UK, who use the word as a shortened form of underpants.
We knew that, sure, but this thing goes much deeper than that. In New Zealand, pants (which is to say, underpants) are referred to as undies or y-fronts, while pants (which is, trousers, try to keep up) are referred to as breeks or trews in Scotland. It’s just a mess all around.