George Bernard Shaw once described the UK and USA as "Two countries separated by a common language" and even though communications across the pond have increased in frequency in the 50 years or so since he died it is still notable how different the two languages are. And that's largely a reflection of the demographic of the country - the American language is as much a melting pot as the country itself, taking words from Dutch, Italian, Hungarian, Yiddish, Spanish and Russian to name but a few of the influences.
As a Brit in the USA you should expect to understand more than you are understood, simply because (despite the relative success of BBC America) media traffic tends to move from there to here rather than the other way round. Whether it's through comedy or drama, film or politics the average Brit can list a lot more distinctive American words than our Atlantic cousins can manage in return. Chances are that you know that a pavement is a sidewalk and a nappy is a diaper, and you probably understand that putting gas into a car isn't a major health and safety issue - but tell your American colleague that you like chocolate on your biscuits and ketchup on your chips and you may find yourself face to face with a look of slight confusion.
While we're at it, here's a quick note about accents - you now have one. Even if you have a middle-England, educated-out-of-you, could-be-from-anywhere, un-accent, you will have to get used to people commenting on your accent. And if you have a strong regional accent, be prepared to slow down, repeat yourself and try to talk 'a bit more proper' than you normally would - in 1964 the Barbra Windsor film Sparrows Can't Fly was subtitled for its US distribution for fear that American Audiences simply wouldn't understand the Cockney being spoken!
Article copyright John Cave 2008
Part 1 - Understanding the Geography
Part 2 - Understanding the Culture
Meet me at the "Focus on Doing Business in the USA Event" 13th March 2008 in association with the British American Business Council
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