I first came to the UK in 1990 for a study abroad programme in Bath. I was a journalism student and had never been outside the US except for a trip to Niagara Falls when I was a kid and the obligatory Tijuana bar hopping over the border in college. I thought living in the UK would be an adventure.
I was placed with a family with two girls; an 18-month-old named Marie and a four-year-old named Emma.
Immediately I was fascinated with the language differences. I was quickly comparing the American version of British words with Emma – jumpers are sweaters, trousers are pants, pants are knickers. Hee hee hee, isn't this fun.
At dinner, we continued the conversation, she thought it was hilarious. I was about to tell her about jello, which is jelly, and that Americans love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I thought she would find this particularly amusing.
“What?” she asked innocently.
Her mother quickly interjected: “Don’t say what, say pardon”.
I was horrified to realise Emma was reprimanded by her mum because of me. I say “what” all the time. Not wanting to get my little protégé in trouble again, I adopted the custom of saying “pardon” when I couldn't hear or understand someone.
It got Emma off the hook, but it's a habit that has stuck with me.
Most of my daughters have been programmed to say "pardon", but every once in a while a "what" slips in the conversation. This is usually when they spend time with American friends and family.
However, my middle daughter is hopeless. When she can't hear someone, she responds with a hearty “what” no matter how many times she is corrected.
Maybe it is genetic.
This post was written by Susanna, an Expat Mums founder. You can also find her at her blog, A Modern Mother.
Photo credit: jan.leversand