Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Going Native

This ten-year mark is proving to be something of a watershed for me.  After my Tin-Jubilee Celebrations, I had expected life to go on as it always had since I landed on these shores, but several long-standing comforts have, happenstancially, dropped off the radar more or less at the same time.
Thanks to a bout of man-flue, my supply of Halls Honey-Lemon Menthol Cough Drops is down to the final few.  (Yes, I’ve been HACK-HACK under the weather these past weeks but COUGH-COUGH despite a lingering – and, I am certain, life-threatening – chest congestion, I’m feeling better.  Thanks for HACK-HACK asking.)  I brought several economy-sized bags of these miracle cough drops over with me ten years ago because they were not available in Britain at that time and, well, if you want to live a civilized existence, you need Halls Honey-Lemon Menthol Cough Drops.

Halls cough drops are available here now (though not in the big economy-sized bag) but that has become moot: I have, in the intervening decade, discovered Strepsils, which are readily available, come in a conveniently flat box that fits in my shirt pocket and do the job nicely, thank you very much.  And if I really feel the need for that sharp blast of head-clearing menthol, I’ll buy a box of Fisherman’s Friends.
Then I found my wardrobe needed attention.  Every few years, I go through my outfits to see which shirts are beginning to fray around the collars and which pants (that’s Trousers to you locals; my underwear is another story) have shrunk to the point where they are difficult to button up.  (Really, it’s the pants that shrink; what other explanation could there be?)
Anyway, during this particular wardrobe purge, I noted with some alarm that my few remaining American clothing items were looking, shall we say, a bit tired.  For nostalgia reasons, I will not be jettisoning all of them, but the ones I keep probably won’t be worn in public.  (Incidentally, my wife does not suffer this problem; she is forever pointing to a newish-looking blouse or skirt and noting, “I’ve had this longer than I’ve had you” but this is because her wardrobe takes up 28.49 meters of closet space so when one of her outfits goes back into rotation it doesn’t emerge again for 2.47 years.)
But the real kicker, the one that has driven home the hard truth that I am now well and truly in Britain, came about yesterday as I was putting another layer of polish on my latest novel (you know, combing its hair, straightening its tie and making sure its fly is zipped before sending it out to see if it can get a job instead of freeloading off my hard drive for the rest of its life).  While tinkering with scenes, sentence structure and other bits of ambiguous text, it occurred to me—albeit, somewhat belatedly—that the book was about British people, living in Britain, doing British things and was soon going to be (fingers crossed) read by British agents and/or British publishers who might like to see “color” spelled with a “u”.
So I reset the default spell checker to British English, and discovered how many words, within a 94,000 word document, are spelled differently in the UK.  The answer is: a lot.  And the spell-check doesn’t account for words like “Tire” = “Tyre” because “Tire” is an actual word, nor does it account for general usage, so I am going to have to re-read the manuscript yet again to catch all the linguistic nuances that Microsoft cannot cope with.
To someone who is daily immersed in words, changing the etymological foundation of your language is frightening.  Suddenly, I am no longer on familiar ground; my old friends are gone, replaced by alien letter configurations containing the letter U, double Ls and an extra I in aluminum.
I realize that you—safely ensconced in your native language—probably don’t see this as a big deal, but believe me, it is such an “out of nation” experience for me that it makes me want to put on my LL Bean shirt with the missing button and frayed cuffs, cook up a nice cheeseburger with real bacon and Kraft Cheese Slices and top it off with the last of the A-1 Sauce lurking in the back of the fridge (that stuff doesn’t go bad, does it?).
And on that comforting note, I bid you cheerio, pip-pip and advise you to not take any wooden nickels, or to retrain from accepting spurious five-pence pieces, or something.


  1. You forgot to mention that the spell checker also doesn't account for words that are totally different, like bonnet vs. boot, and the very important rubber vs. eraser...although that one is more problematic in America, isn't it? ;)

    1. Yes, changing the spell checker is just the first step, making sure no one in Britain is wearing a "Fanny Pack" comes next ;)

    2. Oops, I should have said bonnet vs. hood, and boot vs. trunk...looks like I should have checked my comment a little more thoroughly. ;) It sounds like you have a lot of work ahead, but I'm sure the result will be worth it.

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  3. I never know which audience to write for and end up putting the "u" like in color/colour in parentheses, which is very annoying to all around.
    And haven't you tried Vics menthol lozenges, or don't they make them any more. Fishermen's Friends are a bit on the sadistic side!

    1. When I write my own stuff, I still use US spelling, and I never do the colo(u)r thing--too much work ;)

      And Fisherman's Friends, yeah, they are a bit of a challenge.