When in Rome

When you go to live in a country where there is a language difference, you automatically expect there will be different customs and there is ripe opportunity for faux-pas like the ridiculous Sauna Incident from many moons ago.  But, if you read a book or two, you’re aware of things such as, in Germany, when you are in a social gathering and people are clinking their glasses, you must take a drink from your glass and, while doing that, hold the gaze of the person you just clinked with. It’s tempting to start wiggling your eyebrows during those few long seconds while you’re drinking and gazing but that would not be a good idea. In a less formal atmosphere, it’s more relaxed but at German business dinners those few seconds can be excruciating.  Trust me, I know!

But, what can be deceiving is to travel to a different country that has the same language as yours.  The inclination is to believe we’re all the same.  And, to a certain-degree, that can hold true.  But, you can really stick your foot in the wrong place too and it’s seems more embarrassing because there is no language difference.  I lived in Ireland for one year of university and soon discovered the Irish are among the most cynical in the world, and are a total contrast to the happy-go-lucky stereotype that many believe in America. Mind you, it was very fun and I made life-long friends there but that was the first time I realized the same mother-tongue doesn’t mean the same people.

Some years later, a large group of those Irish friends had emigrated to San Francisco and we overlapped living there for a couple years.  One couple in the Irish group got engaged and I’ll never forget the look in their eyes when Gary and I showed up at the engagement party with a gift.  It was as if we were handing them a vial of radioactive material (“We thought plutonium would look great in your living room!”) or maybe a rabid squirrel (“He responds to Sammy.”) These normally fun, gracious people couldn’t even whisper a thank you. What was customary among Americans, triggered Irish superstition through the roof–it’s bad luck to give an Irish couple a gift before they are married (even if they are living in San Francisco).  Also, never give a pregnant Irish woman a gift for the baby.  Wait until the baby is born.  At least I never did that one.

The reason why this comes to mind is I’m traveling to London with friends soon and I realize that even though I’ve been to London a few times, I don’t know that much about English life. We all speak the same language and then it can get into treacherous territory if one doesn’t know the rules. Sure, I know things like “pants” in England means underwear.  Say trousers instead. Also, don’t ask for a “ride” in someone’s car.  Tee hee heee….ask for a lift instead. But, aside from some basics, all I know is I like London, except for the breakfasts–horrific. But from Googling around I have learned things like: never cook a pork pie you buy from a shop–it’s already cooked and will be a complete mess if you put it in the oven. Besides that, it seems to be considered a mistake so stupid–something like putting ice cream in the oven. Good to know but I’m not sure if I even want to eat a pork pie.  Also, never kiss the hand of the Queen which Mickey Rooney did a few years back when she visited America. I find that sweet and also hilarious but it was the talk of England apparently. I’m not expecting to meet the Queen but, duly noted!

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2 responses to “When in Rome

  1. Hello 🙂 I just found your blog on Expat Women. As a Londoner I found your post v funny – particularly in the context of now having American friends – we are constantly having to translate ourselves for each other! As a Brit… apologies for our breakfasts 😉

    • Ellen Willson Hoover

      Hi Christie, thanks for your comments and I’m sorry for the slur about the breakfasts! I just do much better with a bowl of Cheerios. 🙂 (In case you haven’t run across Cheerios, your American friends will know exactly what they are.) Thanks for reading! Cheers, Ellen

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