Lost in Transatlantic Translation

Yesterday I spent 30 minutes registering to a new doctor’s surgery. The reason it took half an hour to relay my name, address and date of birth over the phone is because the conversation went something like this:

Receptionist: What is your first name?
Me: Hannah. H, A, Double N, A, H.
Is that with a C or an H?
H
Haaahnnnah?
Yes.
What is your date of birth?
April 13 1976
February 30….
Oh for the love of Christ

Admittedly, I know that it is me that has the funny accent in this country so I can’t get too huffy but you’d think in a place that is so multiethnic that they put Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and Navajo on a health insurance bill, they’d be able to understand a Surrey accent:

(Tagalog? Never even heard of it? Me neither. Fortunately the oracle that is Google told me it’s one of the two official languages of the Philippines.)

Other etymological conundrums I’ve faced:

Tuna. Asking for a tuna and salad sandwich (while with flu and a blocked nose). New Yorkers pronounce it toona (heavy on the t-ew). The British chuu-nah doesn’t work. You might as well have said moon cheese.

Chutney. Doesn’t exist. No comprende. Not in Key Foods anyway. And imagine, from the home of the pickle…

Cool bag. Even though it doesn’t take too much of a lateral leap to get to the more colloquial ‘cooler’, this left one store worker dumbfounded, hand-wringing and me feeling like a Martian, when all I wanted to do was keep picnic cold cuts at a non-perishable temperature for a few hours’ car journey. Thank goodness I didn’t use my preferred ‘eskie’, adopted up from my days in Australia. The store worker may have imploded.

Grilled cheese. By far the biggest language-barrier challenge I’ve faced since living in NYC. A toasted cheese and tomato wholegrain sandwich is my snack stand-by; it instantly sorts out all manner of problems from plain hunger to pregnancy nausea to hangovers. I probably eat three a week. It is no exaggeration to say that it’s taken me four months to learn how to order this properly and it goes without saying that my misordering and resulting offerings have led to great gastronomic distress. I couldn’t take it anymore one day, and asked a nice man in a quiet deli how to say it. The answer is, ahem, grilled (specify type of –  I say Swiss) cheese with tomato on wheat. Phew.

Of course it’s easy to laugh at these New World people and their funny deviations on the Queen’s English. Anyone who has lived in London has at some point condescendingly rolled their eyes (after they’ve walked off, of course) at some well-meaning pa who wants to steer his brood towards Lei-chester Square.

But when you’re in a new country, the joke’s on you (or at least a rumbling tummy), unless you adapt your ways.

Plus, I know how those visitors feel. Not so long ago, I asked someone how to get to the Flat-i-ron Building.

As mispronunciations go, that is pretty dumb-ass.

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