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Friday, April 23, 2004

Language barrier


Reading Daisy's post here, the first one reminded of one of my early language barrier problems I had when I was in America.

The X and I had gone for a weeks visit before we moved over there - him to meet his new team and actually do some work, me to meet the people who I had previously only spoken to on the phone. We decided to buy two cheap mobile phones so we could keep in contact in the 'big bad city' of NYC.

That in itself was a a bit of a palaver - I mean, it is hardly a big request to have a pay as you go mobile phone, which can send text messages, and I can use to ring whoever I like - even if that person happens to be abroad. But it wasn't. This was the year 2000 - and we had to buy 2 bricks, and we could only ring numbers in New Jersey and New York - any other states would cost extra, and the text messaging and foreign calls were just forbidden.

Anyway, I digress. To activate the phones, we had to ring this helpdesk number. I get this very nice, polite, helpful man on the phone ("Oh boy, I just lurve your accent"). He took me through the process.

"Press number 123 then *".
"Numbers pressed".

"Press 345 then * twice".
"Numbers pressed".

"Press 789 and then £".
Big pause.
"I don't have a £ key".
Another big pause.
"Of course you have a £ key, all phones have a £ key".
"Nope, definitely NO £ key on this phone".

I can tell I am put on hold, as it all goes silent, with no background noise. I suspect he is telling his mates about the thick Brit woman he's got who can't find the £ key on her phone. He comes back on the phone.

"Erm, it's usually the key to the right of the 0 on the keypad".

"I have a hash key there".
"A WHAT key?".
"The hash key".

By this time we are both in hysterics.

"Well ma'am, we call something else hash in this country. I guess you were looking for the pound sterling sign?"

Incidents like this happened to me on an almost daily basis - who knows until you get there that they never 'ring' someone, they 'call' them? Or they never use a 'brolly' in the rain? Or that for mange tout you are meant to say snow pea?

I still maintain we have a lot more in common with the Germans than the Americans, much as we might wish it differently*. We really do speak a different language.

*Disclaimer - I am referring to us British as a nation, not a personal view.

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