When I lived in Japan I expected to have difficulty communicating. I don’t really speak Japanese and most Japanese don’t really speak English (or Dutch). It was quite a relief, when we moved to the States, to be able to comfortably communicate with everyone. Now that we live in England we are of course able to communicate with the English, but surprisingly not nearly as smoothly as with the Americans. The Dutch education system teaches us British English, but I consciously taught myself American English a very long time ago and have been speaking that ever since. Of course, I knew they pronounce and spell things differently here, but I did not expect so many words to have a different meaning in England than they have in the States.
I am about to be a mom [mum in British English] and I am having an especially hard time trying to understand baby-related things lately. People keep telling me what baby items to stock up on, yet I don’t understand what they are talking about. Apparently, each baby needs a certain number of ‘babygrows’ and ‘vests’. Yet, I never heard of babygrows before and wondered what on earth a baby need any vest for? Then when I confusedly respond that I already got the baby a bunch of onesies, the English look at me confused. Total miscommunication.
Apparently, to them onesies are weird adult jumpsuit pajamas that are very popular here for some reason. But to me it means the quintessential infant garment that looks like an elongated T-shirt with enveloped shoulders and closes over the crotch with snaps. The snaps give easy access to the diaper [nappy in British English] when baby needs changing, and if baby has messed up the onesie a tad too much, the enveloped shoulders enable you to roll the garment down over baby’s shoulders instead of having to pull it (and the mess) up over baby’s face. After some research online, I found out that the English call this a ‘vest’. So they weren’t suggesting I should get my baby that sleeveless garment that makes the third piece to a formal three-piece suit: a vest [waistcoat in British English]. And as far as I can figure out from online shops in the UK, a ‘babygrow’ is long-sleeved, footed, one-piece baby bodysuit. Alright then, that makes more sense.
This is not the only baby-related confusion I’ve had over the last few months when talking to the English about baby preparations in my American English. The English keep correcting me when I talk about the baby a travel system consisting of a baby carriage [pram or carrycot in British English], a stroller [push chair or buggy in British English], and an infant car seat. We also got the baby a bassinet [Moses basket in British English] and a crib [cot bed in British English], but we’re still deciding on whether or not to get him pacifiers [dummies in British English]. Yep, all different terms. I’ve also been advised to get plenty of ‘flannels’ and ‘muslins’ [wash and burp cloths in American English] to clean up ‘sick’ [vomit in American English].
Last Monday we had our first regular parenting class arranged by the National Health Service (NHS) and Yasu asked me why they’re called ‘anti-natal’ classes. I’m sure that confused him as it sounds pretty negative, I had to explain that ‘antenatal’ is British English for prenatal. Next Monday, we’ll have another class and we’ll learn all about the menu of pain medication the hospital provides during delivery (no thanks) and Caesarean sections. I learned from my Maternity Ward tour that if one needs a C-section in England they should expect to be wheeled to a theater?! Yes, an operating room is called an ‘operating theatre’ here. I guess that makes it sounds less scary or there will be an audience cheering you on? In any case, I hope not to end up there.
Then after the baby is here it can get confusing too. I was given advice on what to do what happens if the baby gets wobbly?! I was thinking about when he starts to walk and he isn’t stable on his feet yet, but no they meant when baby throws a tantrum. When I talk about the nursery I mean the baby’s bedroom, but when the English talk about nurseries they mean daycare/child care and preschool. You know, where parents send their children during work hours before they attend compulsory education. And even more surprising to me, Kindergarten does not seem to refer to the first one or two years of compulsory education at elementary school [primary school or junior school in British English] in England and several other European countries (Netherlands not included). Although hardly used here, when the term Kindergarten is used they seem to be talking about non-compulsory preschool or daycare [nursery in British English] again.
These are just a few examples that have come up recently, I have loads more American vs British English anecdotes from the last 1.5 years. Stay tuned ;).