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American English in Britain

Just when I thought I had figured out British accents, I encountered yet another linguistic challenge in the UK: the abundant lexicological differences between the American English that I grew up with, and the vocabulary that Brits actually use in their day-to-day lives.

Most commonplace words are fairly easy to figure out: lift, loo, biscuit, rubbish, parcel, jam… no problem there. But some might be a a bit trickier. So, without further ado, here are some book illustrations depicting memorable awkward situations 1 . Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

For instance, Brits refer to pants as “trousers”. If you find yourself in a clothing store and indicate that you don’t wear pants, they’ll think that you are THAT weirdo who goes through life without ever using underwear.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

There was also the time when a colleague invited me to a party after work, and immediately thereafter asked if I had a rubber. Of course he meant eraser, not the birth control item. I’m glad someone clarified this to me and no one had to be reported to human resources…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

If someone offers you a meal from their boot, don’t be grossed out. They mean their car trunk 2.

Truth be told, learning these lexical differences turned out to be an amusing experience. What I didn’t find that amusing was the self-righteous attitude of linguistic supremacy that some Brits hold towards British English.

My colleagues, polite as they might have been, always felt the need to point out my spelling “mistakes”. An acquaintance gave me a list of British shows in the hope that I would “get rid of that horrifying American accent”. Some even told me that, whenever they heard someone speaking American English, they automatically deem them to be uneducated folks 3.

But here’s the thing: thinking that your version of the language is the quintessence, the most lustrous and the only one acceptable is like saying that X is the best food or Y is the best book ever written. There are tons of delicious meals, thousands of inspiring books and multiple versions of any given language, each as fascinating and enriching as the next. Diversity is key.

I wonder if it’s an island thing.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British Isles, United Kingdom, Britain, Drawing map, I love maps, living abroad comics,

Do you have a preferred version of English? Do certain accents have positive or negative connotations for you? Leave a comment!

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If you liked this article, click here to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.

On Migration, Identity and Colorful Earthlings

If you have moved abroad 4, the following scenario might sound familiar: you are at a social gathering, sipping your drink and having a pleasant time. You meet a bunch of new people and engage in small talk. You talk about the weather, food or common interests. They seem friendly. Everything is going well.

But the locals notice that something is off. Maybe you look different, maybe they sense an accent, maybe your body language deviates from the norm. Then the inevitable question arises.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, cultural identity, colorful, worldly, displaced, dépaysement, adaptation

They are genuinely curious to know more about your background, but you realize that the question is somewhat flawed. They ask “where are you from”, and I wonder if this is what they picture in their minds:Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat comics, home country, living abroad

But you are not a tourist from country X in country Y. You are not even a long-term guest. In fact, you’ve been away for so long, that right now you are much closer to Y than X. You are at a loss for words.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, TKC, cultural baggage, background, assimilation, acculturation

In addition, your birthplace, the cultural background of your parents or the country where you grew up might be totally separate variables. For the sake of simplification, let’s say those three elements can be stacked up in one pile. It still feels wrong to say I’m X. Instead, I picture something like this:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat cartoons, comics, living abroad, foreign country

You are in that green area, fluctuating between two worlds, really belonging to neither. Too foreign here, too alien for home.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, migration, inmigración, emigración, inmigrante, existential migrant

The conversational partner seems to be getting impatient. Maybe I could say that I’m both X and Y, and call it a day. It wouldn’t be a lie either, for I am a dual citizen.

I slightly lean back and take a look around. I spot my husband, who happens to be Z, talking to a middle-aged man, fighting the language barrier in order to explain what he does for a living. I know the struggle. We have all been Z at some point. He also puts his cultural luggage on the table, making our household an XYZ home.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, third culture, cultural background, foreign couple

However, there’s more to this equation than X, Y, Z. There’s also A, B, C, D and E. All those places where I have lived, all those people that I have met, all those different world views that I have collected over the years.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat comic, comic strip, international relationships, life abroad

The mental diagram keeps growing 2. With every new added circle, the “me” intersection becomes tinier and darker. So tiny that it feels restrictive. You want to break free, yet don’t know how to sew all the pieces together and stitch up a unified self. You are a patchwork of traits without defined identity. A shattered mirror where every fragment reveals one particular reality, and one runs the risk of getting lost between its cracks. You are part of everywhere and nowhere at the same time.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, foreigner, vivir en el extranjero, im Ausland leben, AusländerThen the sudden realization strikes. It’s the question that was wrong all along.

You may be from somewhere, yet feel part of something else. Your identity is a fluid construct, a colorful coalescence. You are all the pieces of the puzzle, and those that are yet to come. You don’t have to settle for X when you can be the whole damn alphabet 3.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, TCK, patchwork, global awareness, world citizen

So, next time someone asks where you are from, think big.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, global awareness, world citizen, ciudadana del mundo

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Dedicated to everyone who has ever felt out of place.

Easter in a Catholic Country

Depending on where you are today, you might be collecting hidden chocolate eggs, having a family lunch, lighting a bonfire atop a hill, or going to Church. In Catholic countries, one doesn’t exactly go to church, but rather, the church comes to YOU.

Easter might be the only holiday in Spain that is not about shoveling food down your throat non-stop. The concept is simple: someone in the 15th century decided to take their sculpted Biblical personalities out on the street. That way, the common folks would experience Jesus’ last days on Earth, relive his pain, and repent for being such dreadful sinners. The idea spread like wildfire, and nowadays Easter in some provincial locations of Spain looks like this:

Source: Pixabay – Semana Santa

If I were an unknowing tourist right there, happened to make a turn and bump into these people, I would run away so far that not even Google would be able to find me. But fear not, these people are not here to murder you in your sleep. This somewhat creepy outfit represents the Christian sacrament of penance i.e. reconciliation with God. Pretty much like football teams, each congregation has its own penitential robe, conical hat, flags and symbols. They take the streets carrying their pasos (floats), each more lavishly decorated than the next, depicting scenes of the Easter story.

For a whole week, some Spanish cities and towns look like this. Every major street turns into a heavily incense-scented escape room. For a whole week, there’s a grave, gloomy atmosphere lurking all over the place, and Catholics really feel “it”. Basically everyone is devastated until Jesus comes back from the dead.  Yes, the dead.Expat Gone Foreign, Christianity, Religion, Catholicism, ResurrectionGrowing up in rural Andalusia, Catholicism was ubiquitous. Reciting prayers in kindergarten gave way to Sunday mass and Bible study in school, and that’s where trouble began. The stories just didn’t hold up.

For instance, Noah would have had to build a 10,000 square meter ark – that’s roughly the surface of 30 basketball courts lined up – in order to fit two animals of each kind in his boat. God was a trinity, which meant three persons coexisting in one entity. Nothing weird about that. There was this dude who allegedly feed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. I’m sorry, that’s not a meal. It’s not even tapas. The guy who wrote the Bible had clearly failed physics, biology, math and common sense across the board 4.

Creationists didn’t like questions, so I was told that biblical texts were not meant to be taken literally, but rather understood as the story of a nice guy who went around preaching love and doing good things. That was a relief. Basically, being Christian was about acting nice and loving thy neighbor – unless your neighbors were gay, agnostic, promiscuous, black, Muslim, or belonged to any other deranged minority. Catholicism wasn’t exactly fond of the ladies either. Just because Eve ate the apple, all women were by default the root of all evil and needed to be kept in line 2.

Fortunately, things have come a really long way.

Nowadays, participating in the Easter parades is more about aesthetics and folklore than religion itself, and I do understand the artistic value of sculpted scenes and the street performances 3.

I also understand the human need to belong, to have some sense of community. Religion has fulfilled that role for centuries: it kept people together and gave the common folks some reassurance in times of plagues and famines. It served its purpose at a time when science wasn’t there to explain miracles.

My point being: how is THIS still a thing?

British Politeness

“Getting around in the UK will be a piece of cake, I’m already fluent in English!” – Boy, was I wrong. I had to learn how to read between the lines, a skill only found in the British genome.

You see, successful communication in Britain is all about the implied meaning rather than what is actually said. In fact, Brits are the best at not getting to the point. But worry not! Here is a comprehensive guide to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, culture clashes comics, British politeness, life abroad

If you liked this strip, check out British sinks.

The Finno-Ugric Enigma

When you arrive in a new country and speak none of its language, you might find yourself in somewhat awkward situations. This is basically what happened to me on my first day in Finland: the Finno-Ugric enigma of non-anthropomorphic signs in restrooms.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, foreign language comics, Finnish, Suomi, faux-pas, abroad

When I first arrived in Finland, “sauna” and “perkele” were the only words of Finnish that I knew. Of course everyone in Finland speaks English, but that didn’t stop me from getting myself into embarrassing situations. Up until then, not knowing the local language hadn’t posed any problems in getting around Europe 4.

I could always resort to the few Romance and Germanic languages that I already spoke to figure out the situation. Lost in an Italian town? Mix Spanish and Latin. Interacting in Denmark or Sweden? Pull out German. To my surprise, the althochdeutsch 2 literature courses really came in handy when deciphering the Morgunblaðið in Iceland.

Finnish however, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. How do you crack a language when there are no similarities or linguistic strings to pull from? I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. How do you navigate life when you can’t even read? I felt almost illiterate, but also genuinely intrigued by the Finno-Ugric enigma. And it was then, in a coffee shop in Turku, that I decided to learn Finnish, the beautiful language of the bazillion cases and insane grammar categories. ♡

What about you? Why did you decide to learn a particular foreign language? Leave me a comment!

If you are into Finnish, check out Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape.