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A Londoner’s Guide to Living in New York: Part 1.1: Language 
1st-Dec-2011 08:00 am

I’ve lived in the Big Apple* for about fifteen months now, long enough to get into the swing of living here, and to have acquired and internalised some of the important skills and knowledge required to live in the most charmingly obnoxious city in the world, the USA, the state of New York.

I originally started planning a series of posts that was “the Britisher’s Guide to Living in the States,” then I realised I knew nothing about living in 49 of those States – even though I could probably bullshit Massachusetts, come to think about – and then I realised that the biggest piece of advice I could give a Briton coming to live in New York City would be “live in London or another big metropolis first. It’s a great way of acquiring important skills like underground transit usage and sleeping through traffic noises, without having to also deal with monochromatic money or not having easy access to Branston Pickle. I also have very little experience of being an adult living anywhere other than London, so that’s why my advice has to be limited.

But even with those specifications, I believe I have learned enough in my time living here that I can help out any one who might be interested in leaving one city for the other.

1. Learn the language

Ahahaha, you’re thinking, she’s going to make a joke about how the US and the UK speak different dialects. How funny and original, you’re thinking. Certainly nothing like I’ve ever read before in attempts to be satirical

To which I say: shut up, you sarcastic arsehole.

It’s remarkable. You have no idea the size of the barriers set up by dialectic differences are until you move out of your comfort zone and go somewhere where you don’t speak the standard dialect. It’s an object lesson in itself.

I speak standard British English (Queen’s English – sounds posh, dunnit?) and I spent 29 years of my life living in London and the environs, where the native accent was in line with ‘typical’ English accent, and where the local dialect was, as well, the Queen’s English – give or take an ‘innit’ or a leading ‘H’ respectively.

So it was a serious culture shock to be transplanted into a place where everyone around me considers themselves to speak “without an accent” (no such thing), and where I have to acquire an internal language monitor. Where I continually run the risk of not being understood, and where my normal method of making myself better understood to go slower, yes, but also to plum up and Lumley-fy my accent, actually makes me harder to follow.

This is, of course, nothing like what is experienced by English Language Learners, or people whose accent deviates more strongly from ‘standard’, but it’s incredibly illustrative, to suddenly have to watch what I say, because people do not understand the way I tell time. Nothing like having my privilege poked at slightly to show quite how steeped in it I am.

I can’t help with accent correction, because I don’t have an ear for accents myself, but I have learned a whole new vocabulary, which I share for your benefit


Word You might think… What it means in New York
Hero Mark Cavendish A sandwich
Superhero Marvelman A big sandwich
Sub A boat designed to go underwater A sandwich
Torpedo A weapon often employed by a sub A sandwich
Panini Where all your pocket money went A sandwich
Reuben Freddy Krueger A sandwich
Monte Cristo A classic French adventure novel A sandwich
Grinder A device for serving pepper A sandwich
Subway A sandwich The tube.

There, I hope that is informative.

For other words, I’ve found the following two rules of thumb to be useful:

- If it sounds Italian, it is probably a meat.

- If it sounds Yiddish, it is probably delicious.

If you’re wondering about words that New Yorkers might use for things other than food, don’t worry, so am I.

*No, no one calls it that. I remained saddened by that fact.

This post can also be found at Thagomizer.net. Feel free to join in the conversation wherever you feel most comfortable.

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1st-Dec-2011 02:45 pm (UTC)

You are not wrong.
1st-Dec-2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
I'd offer a small caveat that most people north of Yonkers consider New York City (by which I mean the five boroughs and Long Island and maybe some of the other bedroom communities) to be a separate state unto itself, with its own peculiar customs and dialects. Then again, NYC-area folks often think that people north of Yonkers are yokels or crypto-Canadians, so it cuts both ways. ^_^
1st-Dec-2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
So, basically, NY City folks have a similar relationship to the rest of their state to that between people who live within the M25 area and those cow farmers who live outside?

This sounds about right to me, especially as New Yorkers sometimes seem to have trouble remembering there is a rest of the United States, just as English people kind of forget that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exist, sometimes.
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1st-Dec-2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
Fact: Branston Pickle can be found with reasonable reliability at the Kroger's grocery store in Little Rock, Arkansas. ^_^

On a side note, I don't think "sandwich" when I hear all those words, either.
(Deleted comment)
1st-Dec-2011 05:11 pm (UTC)
Now I have a massive craving for matzo ball soup.
1st-Dec-2011 05:12 pm (UTC)
*snerks* I love all the different names for sandwiches on the East Coast and I'm sorry they confuse you.

Please keep writing this as your writing is brilliant.
1st-Dec-2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
This post has made me ridiculously hungry!
1st-Dec-2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
Have you tried kishke yet? It's hard to find vegetarian, but I think it's delicious in all forms.
2nd-Dec-2011 02:15 am (UTC)
Ooh! If occasion arises, I will MAKE you some vegetarian kishke. I just learned how to make it last month. :D
1st-Dec-2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
I am really glad that I ate a sandwich before sitting down to read this post.
1st-Dec-2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
Once you think you've got a handle on NYC English, come on down to the South and have a crack at ours.
1st-Dec-2011 08:32 pm (UTC)
I'm going to have to. Look what happens when I map out all the States I've visited:

That's a large section of white space that needs filling.
1st-Dec-2011 10:18 pm (UTC)
But why would Rueben make me think of Freddy Krueger? It makes me think of "the eldest of the children of Israel" (according to Andrew Lloyd Potato-Head or of vast, fleshy female forms painted on ceilings? :S
2nd-Dec-2011 02:16 am (UTC)
... well, also according to most English translations of the Bible ...
2nd-Dec-2011 03:51 am (UTC)
It's true, we really enjoy sandwiches!
2nd-Dec-2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
A hoagie is also the same sort of sandwich as a sub or a hero, though perhaps the word hasn't made it to NYC.

As I understand it (Delaware/Philadelphia dialect), a grinder is a sub/hoagie/hero that's been heated so that the cheese melts.
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