The Language Barrier – an elaboration, part 1


A lot of the time, the people I knew in Canada that came from various places in the UK tended to steadfastly use whichever words they’re used to even if they know the local word for whatever it is, roll their eyes at “us” for not understanding, and then explain themselves, with varying amounts of patience and condescension. I thought to myself that I have a prime opportunity for revenge, and that I could take some strange and slightly perverse satisfaction from pointedly using Canadian English even when I full well know the British term for it. Then I’d chortle in glee, obviously, steeple my fingers, and say my master plan was working. They deserve it! It’s time that the Brits got a taste of their own medicine! What I wasn’t anticipating is that I have not had to work very hard at all to confuse people.

Such things include:

me: So, what program are you in?
flatmate: *blank stare*
me: Your degree! Course! Whaddya read?

me: I hope I haven’t overcooked this zucchini…”
flatmate: what’s a zucchini? Is it good? I’ve never eaten one.
me: Yeah, they’re good. Odd that you’ve never eaten one though. They’re very mild.
me: *thinks a bit, comes to a realization*… have you ever eaten a courgette?
flatmate: Of course! I’ve eaten loads of courgettes.
me: then you’ve had a zucchini.

me: so I was in Argos, and I actually got carded for the first time here –
flatmates: *all blank stares* what…what do you mean…?
flatmate who has lived in Canada for a year: OH! You mean ID’d!
me: …Yeah… So I was saying, I was carded, the guy didn’t think I was old enough to buy cooking knives-

I also think I talk way faster than most people here. I’ve had to repeat myself an awful lot. Sometimes I’ve had to say things about three times to people. It’s very odd, I have idea why, but I suspect that part of it is speed, and part of it is Canadian English allowing me to omit consonants that British English does not. Basically, if I want someone to understand me on the first go, I have to just not use contractions. I was ranting to a Scottish flatmate about this, and she said “I don’t know, I always thought you sound pretty normal most of the time…”

Then I started talking and demonstrating the distinctions which most varieties of English here make, which I do not, and she rescinded her assertion that I am normal.

When I came here, I braced myself for a language barrier. I’ve largely been pleasantly surprised – most of the Scots I’ve met are quite comprehensible. The ones that aren’t tend to be on the other end of a phone when I want to call a taxi.