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.
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.
Photo credit: jan.leversand