A Pronunciation Lesson for Lunch

6 Sep

It’s lunch time and we’re going to press tomorrow, so I figure I don’t have a lot of time. I shoot over to the café across the street and ask for some pasta.

“Which sauce?” asks the burly man, who looks like he’s been dishing out pasta for some twenty years.

“Tomato,” I answer in my Canadian accent (təˈmeɪtoʊ).

“What?”

“Tomato.”

“Oh…you mean tomato (təˈmɑːtoʊ).


Of course, I think. I should be used to the British arrogance by now. This man knew what I was saying all along. He was just re-emphasising that I am in his country and thus should pronounce tomato his way.

I sigh (a typical response from me on such occasions).

I think back to those days when I first came to this country when I was around every corner I was met by evidence of a language barrier—yes, there is a language barrier and no, I had not expected it either.

I remember one time when I was looking for a Wi-Fi connection so I could settle down with my MacBook and hunt for jobs. I must have asked the café waitress three times if there was Wi-Fi before she turned to her co-worker with, “You answer her. I have no idea what she’s saying”.

There were other times where I asked for the washroom and people would pretend they didn’t know what I was saying until I said “loo” or “toilets” (which no matter how many times you tell me it’s not crass, I still can’t say).

When I asked my cousins why people didn’t understand me when I said washroom, they just smiled.

“It’s not that they don’t understand you,” they said. “They will just pretend not to”.

I like to think these days I have a better handle on slang and how best to avoid stan

ding out with my Canadian pronunciations, but it is times like these (when I refuse to say təˈmɑːtoʊ because it sounds pretentious to my ears) that I’m reminded of how maddening the Brits and their British English can be.

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3 Responses to “A Pronunciation Lesson for Lunch”

  1. Melissa September 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Ah, this happened to me, too, when I was in England last year! A fuse blew in my hotel room, and the guy at my hotel refused to help me until I came to the conclusion that I was telling him there was a problem with the “outlet” and not the “socket.” Apparently “that thing in the wall that the TV plugs into” also wasn’t clear enough. Jerks.

    Glad to see you’re not becoming one of them.

  2. Vanessa -- Random Thoughts & Acronyms January 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Ack, I had a similar experience in Paris (I speak French). I lost my hat and when I went back to the last place I saw it and asked the waitress if she had found it, she had me repeat three times before telling her coworker that she had “no idea what I was talking about”. Yeah… I doubt that.

    Wish I had a similar story from London to share but I don’t 😛

  3. Angela October 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    Your post made me laugh. I’m actually just in the middle of writing my own similar post! I’m also Canadian, living in Malta and about to move to Scotland. I’ve realized that some words that I have used daily in Canada all my life now seem foreign to me. But then of course there are still words like ‘washroom’ that I will ALWAYS use. I can’t seem to conform to ‘toilets’ either, yuck lol!

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