07 February 2020


When we were first married, I believe my husband said something along the lines of:  We are two cultures divided by a common language.  How true that was!  Everyone knows that the UK and America have different words or terms for the same item, but you really have no idea what it is like to have to rewire your brain to comprehend them until you are immersed in it.  When I first moved here, I was SO frustrated when trying to speak to my husband about everyday things.  After over 12 years, we have developed our own kind of "Spanglish" which we both completely understand, and which works for us.

I also remember having been here less than a year when a man (who is no longer our friend!) told me, "You live in Scotland now; you'll have to start speaking like a Scot."  He actually meant not only my pronunciation of the language, but also my accent.  Of course, that was absurd.  People do not lose their native accents, and people do not fundamentally change just because they have moved countries.  Yes, we have to adapt and be able to communicate, but we do not have to deny the people we are.  I was 43 when I moved here.  There was no way I was going to suddenly become Scottish! Nor did my Scottish friends who have lived in America for decades ever lose their accents and suddenly become American first.

In the beginning, I was also tormented by thoughtless, rude people who made fun of my accent.  Coming from America, I was appalled.  Everyone there has some sort of accent, and no one is bothered about it.  I can remember a petty, mean-spirited bank manager where I worked many years ago (my first job in Scotland) constantly berating me about my pronunciation.  Little did she know that I thought she frequently sounded like an ill-mannered and not very literate grade school child.

All these things were very hard to put up with, but somehow, I eventually let them slip away from me, and I continued on as I was / am.  My accent is clearly American.  My pronunciation is clearly American.  Everyone seems to understand me fine.  If I feel there might be any confusion, I use the vernacular that people are familiar with here.  And I know what people are talking about when they use British English vocabulary.  I am bilingual.  Ian is bilingual.  We can function on either side of The Pond.

Language barriers are very real things, and possibly one of the most frustrating aspects of culture shock.  After all, language IS culture.  It is completely defined by culture.  I have been thinking about that recently because of the worldwide refugee situation.  These poor people who are displaced (and did not want to leave their homes, but were forced to, remember), struggle worse than I did.  Communication is fundamental to our being able to live comfortably and safely, and with peace of mind.  

My situation was something I could overcome, with time, and was nowhere near as difficult as what most refugees deal with.  Let's try to remember to encourage foreign speakers, be patient with them, and reassure them of their worth -- not devalue people because they don't "speak like we do".

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