I miss the English language.
In 1999, we moved to London from Geneva due to a corporate relocation. After 9 years in Switzerland, this was a new development in our family saga. Among the mixed emotions, one standout was a relief to live again in an English speaking culture. We could move right in and mix with the locals! We could live anywhere, not dependent on an international community or school to settle in. If we didn’t want to pay a hugely-exorbitant property price in London, we could pay a moderately-exorbitant property price in the countryside. We could move to a charming provincial English village in the hills or downs, find a crumbling stone property or a creaky half-timbered cottage and fit right in. After all, we were fluent in the local language – we only missed a sturdy pair of wellies.
I should have known better. I had plenty of British expat friends back in Geneva. Perhaps I hadn’t paid attention, or perhaps in the expat world, you have your own expat culture and dialect; everyone ends up speaking affected versions of the international language of English, adapted and tweaked to mingle with the myriad mother tongues and language abilities encountered in an enormous international community.
Whatever the case, upon arrival in London and following a brief rental experience in Surrey, we moved to that aforementioned tiny provincial village where we purchased a rambling, L-shaped, feng-shui-challenged barn renovation near the south coast with distant views to the Isle of Wight. Suddenly, I found myself in the thick of all things English and thoroughly in the dark.
While I can write volumes about our bumbling and surprisingly foreign experience settling into U.K. life, I will remain on the topic of language. After all, that was one of the perks of this move for us, and the excuse we used to propel ourselves to a remote corner of Southeast England in our well-intentioned quest to live like a local.
So please reflect upon these images:
Explanation: If your child is invited home by a classmate for Tea one day, rest assured your precious 4 year-old will not be served a scalding cup of Earl Grey. Most likely, he will be supplied with an early supper served to children; beans on toast is a favorite.
Here is a picture of Pudding. And here is a picture of Pudding.
Explanation: If you are invited to a neighbour’s home for dinner and asked to bring a pudding, don’t despair if you are unsure as to whether you can recreate your mother’s Butterscotch Pudding recipe from your childhood. Pudding is a synonym for dessert, so feel free to live on the wild side and whip up a cake or trifle.
Now you have an idea of the linguistic hurdles I faced. However, with time, and in my eternal pursuit of going native and not blatantly sticking out like the Yankee that I am, I slowly caught on to the English language. My vocabulary shifted. I embraced words such as whilst and hence. I quickly learnt to refer to the car boot and clothing articles such as knickers, jumpers, and trainers. More importantly, I learnt to never, ever, compliment someone on their pants (blush) – for they are trousers. My written word adjusted to include u’s and t’s (neighbour, favourite, learnt, burnt.) The letter “z” became “zed” and was often substituted with an “s” as in finalise and realise. Ever, ever so civilised.
Years later, when we would move on from England to Denmark, and I was straddling the Danish and international communities, British-English remained the English language. I miss it now and still use it in my writing. Unfortunately, my very-American computer program is none too pleased, and my text is littered with red lines.