Poof Balls

Yes: poof balls. I think this is one product found in the local supermarket here, which will not be making its way across the Atlantic, at least not under that name. They’re harmless enough – both literally and figuratively being simply soft foam, moulded into the shape of footballs, etc. for indoor use – but you can only presume no Britons were involved in the naming of it. It’s certainly something to point out to any visiting Brits, just as Chris was mightily amused to discover that we keep faggots in the frozen foods section at Somerfield.

Over the past four months, I’ve come to appreciate keenly the truth of the statement about Britain and America being two nations divided by a common language. This is not necessarily a bad thing: road-rage is a lot safer when the recipient of your abuse doesn’t understand what you’re saying, especially in a country where the carrying of guns is one step short of mandatory. Smile as you stick your V’s up at someone, and greet them with a shout of “Oi! Tosser!”, and you’ll probably get away with it. How I sniggered the first time I heard “wanker” crop up in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – albeit in the Dick Van Dyke-reborn accent of Spike.

I think the crossover is perhaps easier the way I’ve done it, going from Britain to America, because of the huge amount of American culture that we got to see in the UK. I imagine pretty much everyone knows that Starsky and Hutch slid across the hood of their car, filled it with gas and locked criminals in the trunk. Actually, I never recall either of them shutting perps up like that, but if they had, it would have been in the trunk. And definitely not in the boot.

You might think that simple things like chemical elements would be common on both sides of the Atlantic. But, no. At position 13 on the periodic table in Robert’s chemistry book is something called aluminum. Note that carefully: not aluminium, but aluminum. This explains why, when I asked for aluminium foil in the supermarket once, the expression on the poor assistant was about what you’d expect to get, after explaining the Theory of Relativity to your faithful pet spaniel: a desperate desire to please, mixed with absolute and utter incomprehension. [Interestingly, aluminium was the accepted spelling in the States up until 1925, when the American Chemical Society decided to change. Never let it be said these editorials aren’t educational] You gradually get used to this – last time I went in, I was mouthing “garbage sacks” all the way round the aisles, just in case I couldn’t find what I used to call rubbish bags.

Even where we have the same word, pronunciation may not necessarily be the same. Garage: is it GA-rage or ga-RAGE? Man-DA-tory or MAN-da-TORY? We may be easily amused, but many are the happy hours Chris and I have spend debating such issues. It’s not an argument as such, because neither of us have the slightest intention of changing – and I wouldn’t want Chris to change, any more than she would want me to change. For what seemed normal in Britain is now a badge of my difference and independence; when you get complete strangers suddenly asking where your accent is from, it freaks you out the first time, but eventually, it becomes something to which you warm.

Personally, I wear such differences as a badge of honour (note spelling, with a “u” – much as this Yanqui spell-checker might disagree!). Warm beer, fish and chips…and an interesting pronounciation of the word “vitamin”. Doesn’t it make you proud to be British?