| Musings |

Language Carriers     

Okay, so no one could call him a whiz in the kitchen, but this was a whole new language

Being married to an Israeli makes for endless amazing stories in mistranslations, misunderstandings, and mishaps. So when my British brother got engaged to an American girl, everyone secretly heaved a sigh of relief. If there were to be any misunderstandings or mishaps, no one could blame the language.

I just sniggered to myself. Having been blessed with a plethora of American friends, I knew what my dear brother was in for, but I wasn’t telling. And I didn’t know my future sister-in-law well enough to warn her….


I could picture what Dear Brother had to contend with on his wife’s first foray into the kitchen to bake chocolate chip cookies. He wanted to help!

“Pass the chocolate chips. The baking soda. Whole wheat flour.”

“Do you mind lining the pan with parchment paper?”

“Preheat the oven to 350.”

Okay, so no one could call him a whiz in the kitchen, but this was a whole new language. All for some biscuits cookies?

Back in good old England, this would have been the conversation:

“Pass the chocolate drops. The bicarbonate of soda. Wholemeal flour.”

“Do you mind lining the tin with bakewell?”

“Preheat oven to 180.”

As you can imagine, Brother stayed out of the kitchen whenever possible.

So food prep was a trial, but at least it tasted good. And as long as he poked well enough, Brother could somehow figure out that squash soup wasn’t necessarily the way people tried to cover up for mushed vegetables, eggplant was aubergine, and scallions weren’t some kinds of equine derivative, they were just spring onions.

Across the pond does not sufficiently describe it.

And then Brother Two, not having learned a thing, got engaged to an American girl.

My heart was a little softer by then, and I set out to compile a glossary, especially for him.

Transportation was quite high on the list. So that when his wife would ask him to order a car, he’d know she doesn’t mean buying a Ferrari and having it delivered; all she wants is a taxi.

And that a garbage truck is a dustbin lorry, and a van is a minibus, and forget aeroplane, it’s airplane; but please! Just make life easy for both of you and say plane.

My advice to him when going shopping — pray to come back in sound mind and body. And use a shopping cart, not a trolley. Don’t ask me why — just thank me later.

I decided he didn’t need to know about jewelry. As long as he knew what to gift her with, he could get away with spelling it jewellery. For insurance purposes. (I had high hopes!)

While we’re on the topic of spelling, I’d have to explain dropping the Us. Only someone with no sense of humour could start that particular trend.

And then I hit the clothes section…. Sartorial confusion wherever you looked.

Like, how on earth is anyone meant to differentiate between a shirt and a shirt? Is this equality or something? Why not just say blouse and shirt? And honestly, the whole jumper situation. How does the thought process go? “Oh, I don’t think that looks like a jumper. We’ll call it a sweater, and then jumper will be what they call a pinafore.”

On and on it went. Forget the cutesy little booklet I had in mind; this was a DICTIONARY.

I proudly presented it at sheva brachos, and all attending had a great laugh. We Brits laughed at the weirdo Yankees and their ridiculous language, and the feeling was completely mutual as the other side perused potential shopping lists. (“What on EARTH is clingfilm????”)

Oh yes, how we laughed.

And then I wondered who would be laughing once these intermarriages produced future generations, im yirtzeh Hashem. What sort of hybrid English would they speak?

As some of us ate French fries, and the others ate chips, I could not shake that vision from my mind’s eye — a little girl asking her Tatty and Mommy what clothes to take from her cupboard closet.

I was overcome with pity for that poor confused future niece of mine. Sneakers or trainers? Bangs or a fringe?

Head-to-toe mayhem.

The same language?

Pfft. Maybe I was better off, what with a real language difference to blame.

I sighed and dug into a slice of Victoria Sponge.

Or whatever they wanted to call it.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 874)

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