It’s always the little things in life, the small stuff that will catch you out. Just when you think you have a handle on things, it’s the tiny details that always seem to trip you up. And so it is with the English language, or as I like call it here, “American.”
Whether it’s trying to figure out the difference between ‘color’ and ‘colour’ or if you should refer to an aluminum can or an aluminium one, you always have to be thinking ahead. The toughest one of late has been the transition from centre to center and from theatre to theater, and yes, I still had to give that some thought as I wrote it.
The first time I went to Germany, I went prepared – language lessons, research, reading, asking questions. I was ready for a different culture, different words and a different sensibility. The first time I came to America, I wasn’t so focused. I thought I knew it all. I had grown up watching American TV shows from I Love Lucy through to The Sopranos. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 played on Australian radios every Sunday night. I’d had my tenth birthday at McDonald’s, and I’d worn Levis all through my teens. I knew America. Bring it on.
Yeah, it was a theory. Ignorance is bliss, as may be arrogance, for neither of them did me any good. The five minutes I spent in an elaborate game of charades after asking for a serviette (napkin) at Bob Evans should have given me a clue. But no.
I used to watch old cowboy films and was always perplexed why anyone would eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It just seemed really odd, but they were cowboys, so the ropin’ and shootin’ was going to make up for it. You see where I grew up, a biscuit was something more like an Oreo or Graham Cracker. With gravy? No, not so nice.
And there was Richie Cunningham on Happy Days tucking into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Ewww! For what we called jelly, you call Jello. A Jif and Jello sandwich? Enjoy that thought. Oh, speaking of Jif, Jif was a bathroom cleaner; that sure made for an interesting conversation at Kroger the first time.
My local grocery store growing up was called Coles, the department store named Myer. I had arrived on the other side of the planet, and suddenly my world was upside down!
You say ban-nah-nah. I say bah-nar-nar.
I realized (and please note the ‘z’ folks) that after a little time, that while I may not be in Kansas anymore, I was certainly not in Oz. The America that I thought I knew, I really knew nothing about at all. I needed to be schooled. Not just in language but in weight, dates and temperature.
It’s taken a while and I’m still learning. The ‘zed’ in the spelling of my name is now a ‘zee.’ Writing dates backwards, month/day instead of day/month, still does my head in, and I am pretty sure it will take me as long as everyone else to learn my Social Security Number – ten years.
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Ian MacKenzie-Thurley is the new Executive Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Previously he has worked in artistic, programming and administrative roles that include productions at the Sydney Opera House, the 2012 London Olympics Cultural Olympiad and also as a producing Artistic Director.