I recently got back from a trip to New Orleans for Christmas and a significant family birthday, it was my fourth visit to the Crescent City and my seventh to the States. When I’m there I always notice the difference between British and American English (I’ve written about it before in Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!).
The thing is, this time I fell in love with the way Americans speak and their manners.
I had one exchange with a porter who was helping us make a connecting flight that went something like this (as he was about to leave us at the gate):
Me: Thank you so much for helping us.
Very Polite Man: You’re welcome ma’am.
VPM: Merry Christmas!
Me: Thank you. Take care.
VPM: I will [looking surprised – maybe they don’t say that in America?]. You too.
Me: Thanks again.
Me: Bye then.
VPM: You have a good trip ma’am.
VPM: Happy holidays!
Clearly I wasn’t going to get the last word in and left it at that so we didn’t miss our flight.
Some people think that level of politeness is smarmy but I love it. And I never tire of Americans saying ‘excuse me’ when we’d say ‘sorry’ or ‘pardon’. I was saying it too when I got back for a few days, then I felt a bit phony – ah well, just have to wait for my next trip.
Here are some of my other favourite words from the holiday:
When I worked in finance many many years ago we used to add -ise and -isation to words for no reason (it’s strange what counts as fun when you sit at a desk from 7a.m. to 9p.m.).
Anyway, it seems to have caught on. While I was watching NCIS an unfortunate man hadn’t been burgled – he’d been “burglarized”!
Instead of “Give way” signs on their roads, US drivers are told to “Yield”. It’s so simple, it’s so concise, it’s so strong, it’s so… perfect.
Weirdly – but maybe because the French governed Louisiana for periods of the 17th and 18th centuries – people say “‘erb” instead of “herb”. It’s quite funny with an American accent, go on, try it.
4. Merry Christmas y’all!
In N’Awlins people wished me a Merry Christmas a hundred times but never ever a happy one – and I wondered why.
Well, apparently Merry Christmas was used in Britain until Queen Elizabeth decided that ‘merry’ sounded a bit boisterous and had dodgy connotations so she started saying Happy Christmas. The change caught on in the UK but it has never crossed the Atlantic.
I could go on about how after only two weeks I was tossing out the trash, learning new words like deplane and frosting, asking for tap warder when I was thirsty and getting people to say niche (pronounced ‘nitch’ over there) – but I won’t.
Instead it’s over to you, what’s your favourite – or least favourite – Americanism?