Friday, 7 August 2009

Learning to Speak American

flags in Bath Abbey

‘Can I bum a fag off you?’

Note to Brits planning on spending on a lot of time with Americans: this is not a good way of asking if you can purloin a cigarette from someone.

The shock on the fag donor’s face was nothing, though, to the silent horror I felt as, after knowing my fellow teachers for only a few days, they started discussing whether to take a fanny pack on our upcoming Beijing expedition.

My mind didn’t so much boggle as push horrified disbelief into as yet unchartered territories, as I thought: surely this is taking putting your money in a safe place a little too far?

In the end, I had to ask on the grounds that the mental images I was having were surely worse than any reality. When it was established that what they referred to as a fanny pack was my bum bag my relief was such that the inevitable question was ‘so, what did you think it was?’

And how we laughed when I told them that as regards fanny, American arse equals British vagina.


  1. Teehee...that's a beaute. I remember being seriously dirty looked in the States when i asked someone if she was in the queue. I assumed (made an ass of u and me) that word was universally understood in the anglophone world. The poor, dirty looker American woman musta thought i was asking if she was inside a large, invisible letter of the alphabet and therefore, a wee bit insane.

    However, i've never asked an American man (or anyone else come to think of it) for permission to get jiggy with a gay man.

  2. I discovered when I lived in Ireland for 10 months that they were shocked to know one of the American girls was named "Randy," as that meant sexually promiscuous or something like that.

  3. Even after five years in England, I still winced at 'going out for a quick fag' etc...

    I still giggle about the time I asked the customer service woman and marks and spencer if they could hem my pants...

  4. naldo - it was a woman, and inevitably the most humourless, tight arsed person I encountered in China! So her reaction was doubly satisfying. She then moaned on about how offensive calling a cigarette a fag was until her own 'friends' told her to shut up.

    Pat - if you're randy you're horny. I once had an American friend whose Baptist pastor father was called that, I found it hard to keep a straight face when she told me.

    mstb - The kids in our school learnt British English and were suitably horrified when one of my colleagues asked them to tell her what colour their pants were.

  5. In Canada, there is a famous curler named Randy Ferbey (pronounced Furby).... oh how I giggle....

  6. Funny! And this is the confusion between people who basically speak the same language! Sort of. I guess some would take exception to that...

  7. Amazing how much our shared language divides us. I've done the 'fag' booboo and the 'pants' then there is the pavement [sidewalk] and the boot [trunk] and a 'bum' is a tramp over here, and on and on it goes. All unimportant really, what a silly woman.