You say tomato, I say tomahto

I remember laughing at some Youtube clip that was doing the rounds a while ago with an English footballer speaking Frenglish (English in a French accent – think ‘Allo Allo’: ‘There ‘as been a kick-up. The British Air Farce ‘ave dropped their bums on the water works.’ Aah, they don’t make them like that any more.) The said player gave some sort of speech in English with the silliest French accent, seemingly oblivious to the fact that people everywhere were having a good old laugh at him. I hate to admit it, but I sometimes do the same thing. And I’m not the only one.

I have two types of Frenglish that I practise with my nearest neighbours across the channel. The first is to, like the footballer, speak in English with a French accent, throwing in the odd ‘oui, merci’ and wrist flourish for good measure. The other involves reviving some ancient phrases learnt back in my school days, often interspersed with a lost Spanish word or two. This method involves a strong English accent, picked up to avoid embarrassment during French lessons back in the day. So, something like: ‘Bon-jooer. Oon cwassant, por favour and oon café olay.’ It might also involve some pointing and grunting at fancy cakes and things, and no eye contact in order to avoid further discussion. I’m also proud to announce that my French vocabulary has expanded slightly since spending time with some French colleagues (you know who you are!). I’m not sure what this stuff means, but seems to concern rabbits and is probably best avoided in polite situations! Thankfully, all of my French counterparts, as well as, erm, well everybody else that I ever work with, speaks good English, so my linguistic skills aren't required.

I’m currently back in the States, working alongside Americans who don’t half speak funny. You would think that communication here would be easier than in Korea, or China or India. Or indeed easier than anywhere where I’ve worked with people of all nationalities, but where very few speak English as a first language. I’ve already told you about our duck impressions in a Korean restaurant, when trying to ensure that we didn’t end up with a dog stir-fry. I’ve almost gotten used to pointing and grunting as a rudimentary form of sign language, so speaking my own language at work should be a doddle. Shouldn’t it?

Ordering food is certainly easier. I haven’t been offered dog here, or live octopus. In Orlando, though, vegetables are hard to find. The breakfasts are great, however. I love eggs ‘over easy’, but hate asking for them. It’s stupid, what does it even mean? So I go all over the houses (my American friends probably won’t understand that expression!) trying to describe said eggs, ‘Sort of fried, upside down, with a runny yolk …’ only to eventually give in and say 'I'll take eggs over easy'. ‘Sure. You want grits wit thet?’ Of course I don't want to 'take' my eggs anywhere, I just want to eat them.

But after a few visits to the States (America, to British readers) you do start to accidentally speak silly like them. When asked how you are, it’s really difficult not to say ‘I’m good’, even though to us Brits it sounds like a brag. Yeah, I’m brilliant, amazing. At what? Don’t you mean ‘I’m fine?’ But it pops out. As does ‘period’ (as in full stop, not women’s time of the month!) and ‘already’ (used randomly and with no apparent purpose). And I won’t mention the time spent in a Miami taxi (cab), while the driver drove around in circles looking for the Zed Ocean Hotel, when we should have asked for the ‘Zee Ocean’. Still, I would have assumed he’d appreciate the pronunciation differences in our languages and made the connection between the 2.

As a programmer, attention to detail is crucial. Spellings have to be correct, and by which I mean correct and in British English. So that means that those rubber things on a car are tyres, not tires. That needs to be stressed to any American working on a car-related non-American theme park (you know who you are!) I say theatre, you say theater, colour is color, you use ‘z’ where I would use an ‘s’, and so it goes on. It’s all fun and adds to the numerous challenges in this profession.

And so, for now, it’s au revoir as I head off in search of burger and fries (not chips – you’ll get crisps) and a 20 oz soda. (Let me knows how much soda that is in real world terms. Probably an inch short of a gallon.)

David Birchall