You say “tomayto”

I say tomahto.

You say vacation, I say holiday.

You say gas, I say petrol.

I say “diaper”, and suddenly everyone starts yelling at me on Facebook!

This is so confusing. Yes, I am well aware that I am English, not American. And yes, it’s only been a year since we moved here . I’ve not forgotten my roots, I’ve not suddenly turned into some kind of pseudo-Yank. I’m not trying to be pretentious – “oooh, look at me, I’m integrating“.


But my son is American. My daughter, to all intents and purposes, is going to be an American – she is certainly learning to talk surrounded by them, so it is inevitable that I am going to be “mom”, and she will eventually ask me to drive her to soccer practice and buy her a dress for the prom.

I am also making American friends, joining American toddler groups and taking my children to see American paediatricians. Pediatricians. Whatever.

Much as I would love to continue speaking the way I always have, and believe me “binky” will never roll off the tongue as easily as “dummy”, I also think it’s important not to confuse my children.

My heart broke a little bit when I took Evie to Gymboree, and she kept asking for “more biscuits”, to no avail. Teacher Megan had no idea what Evie was talking about, because all she had to hand was a box of cookies.

I felt bad for her when she was applauded with an enthusiastic “Good job Evie!”, which meant very little to the little girl who has always been rewarded with a jolly good “Well done, darling girl”. And I wondered what on earth she made of the fact that all the other kids were making pictures out of “noodles”, when poor Evie had a bowl of dry pasta in front of her.

There are so many more examples where I have inwardly cringed at my poor toddler’s confusion over what is, essentially, the same language. “Cats” have become “kitties”, children are “kids”, she is asked to put her rubbish in the “trashcan”, and about this time of year, all the arts and crafts she is doing are centred around “fall”.

I really do need to get used to speaking as Evie and Henry’s contemporaries do. I know that it is important for them both to know where they, and their parents, have come from. But I also know that I don’t want them to be teased at school for speaking “funny”. I don’t want kindergarden teachers to assume that Evie has learning difficulties because she fails to understand such simple terms as “sidewalk” or “garbage”.

And then, there is this here blog. My audience is international – yesterday’s figures looked like this:

So, do I write as I always have, and accept that much of my readership will be left wondering what on earth a “chav” might be. Do I explain or translate as I go (which will inevitably have quite an odd effect on the narrative flow), or do I switch to Americanisms, knowing that most people have grown up exposed to American Sit Coms and movies, and know pretty much every slang term out there?

Far be it for me to risk upsetting y’all, so please, throw it at me – what would you do?

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10 Responses to You say “tomayto”

  1. Aimee says:

    Well dang girl! I’d say shucks and just relax into Americanisms y’all! Have a nice day now! :0) xxxx

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  2. Rupert says:

    I’m pretty sure you won’t have much choice in how this plays out – Evie and Henry are going to pick up the local way of speaking because that’s what ‘kids’ do at at their age. You’ll adopt the bits you need to make yourself understood, whilst remaining endearingly quaint and Briddish to the locals.

    Of course we’ll still pick you up on words like diaper just to remind you of the home you left behind, mainly as an excuse for saying ‘Hi’ or ‘Howdy’ or ‘A jolly good day to you Mrs Pepper’.

    Binky huh? Thought is was a pacifier?

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    • Kerstin Pepper says:

      Pacifier, or “paci” is another word for it. The more “formal” word, I guess. But most people seem to call it a binky. Weird, huh? And yep, I know the littl’uns will eventually start speaking like the locals, but when the two adults spending the most time with them are Brits, I want to make sure they’re not confused when teachers and pre-school workers start talking about firetrucks, diapers and “go potty” (for “go to the loo”). 🙂 But thanks for continuing to put me in my place, I’ll try not to roll my eyes *too* much! x

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  3. lucie wight says:

    But take heart in the fact that as “multilingual” (of sorts) American children with British parents, they will giggle every, single, time at the word ‘fanny’, and more so when whoever said it doesn’t know why they’re laughing. Gets my 11 and 13yr old nieces every time 😀

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  4. My friends back in Australia went bezerk when I accidently wrote “cell phone” instead of “mobile phone” on a FB comment. There’s a bit of a cultural cringe from the old country.
    However, I will never not say: fortnight, nappy, dummy, and lift (it has three less syllables than “elevator”).

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    • Kerstin Pepper says:

      Ha, yes, I had forgotten about “fortnight”. Even “midday” seems not to be used here. I guess it’s “noon” instead? I don’t know, I kind of like elevator! But a trolley will *never* be a “shopping cart” to me. It just doesn’t seem right at all….. 🙂

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      • Madeleine has a great story about trying find “a can of tomahtoes” at Ralph’s. The staff were bamboozled until she remembered to say “a tin of tomaytoes”.
        The weird thing is foreigners seem to have no trouble with American accents and phrases… but vice versa is a different story.

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