Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not quite the same

When I was a kid, a few of things about the US fascinated me. Through reading US blogs, I have learnt that there are probably hundreds of words that are different between Australia and the US and yet mean the same thing. The ones I can remember noticing when I was a child are faucet for tap, fender for mudguard and trunk for boot and several names used when toilet was the word I knew.

Toilet has just reminded me of my second overseas trip, to Thailand, where the hotels had American style toilets. I panicked the first time I flushed the toilet and alarmingly the bowl filled with water. Oh no, it is going to overflow, and then with some gurgling and a whirlpool, the water drained away. Airplane toilets can be quite alarming too when you use them for the first time.

Telephone cords. US telephone cords were so long, you could strut around your lounge room with the phone in your hand, instead of like here where you were trapped with a couple of feet of cord at the telephone table in the hall.

Another thing I picked up about the US from tv was the huge size of the houses and that they were nearly all two storey. I am little wiser now. But the memory of fine and large two storey houses remain in my mind. How about this cracker house from Shorpy.com Isn't it just a wonder.

Do you have similar false impressions of the US usually because of television and movies?


  1. Living to the US was the biggest culture shock for me. I was quite surprised by this given how much of an influence America has on Australia in terms of pop culture etc.

    I found America to be a very insular society. Most people had very little understanding of global affairs and their knowledge of world geography was alarming at best.

  2. I didn't understand the use of the word "city" in the USA and still don't. Here the central business districts of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane etc are more built-up than the inner and outer suburbs, but they are all equally important parts of the one city.

    In America, the word is used totally differently. For example, the population of Los Angeles is given as 3.8 million. What about the other 14 million people? Do they not live in the city?

  3. I like America but it is a funny place an odd mix of future looking progress held together by fundemental conservatisim.
    So after putting a man on the moon they still cling to feet and inches. They strut the global stage but as is often reported are ignorant (as a populace )of global events etc.
    The "funny" spelling they use with a lot more Z's for instance was the result of a progresive movement to make english more logical at the same time the teaching of creation vs evolution debate still rages. But with 300 million opinions you have to expect some diversity.

  4. A bizarre and alien land - live-in maids and housekeepers [deliriously happy with their lot], milk cartons with the names and photos of missing children, schoolchildren carrying books in their arms instead of in satchels, fire escapes and roofs as extended living areas, school buses with illogically placed rear axles, summer camps, snow, coffee table lamps which lit up when the main light switch was turned on, martinis when hubby came home from work, indulgent parents, and dreadful, turgid organ music at baseball games...

  5. Hello Andrew:
    Being in contact, so to speak, with so many different people in so many various parts of the world, does bring home the huge cultural differences which manifest themselves through language. We are, almost daily, conscious of the dissimilarities between American English and English and how, in such cases, meaning alters.

  6. I love that house, pure "Addams Family".

  7. And yet AdRad, the US blog people who I read are the most worldly in the world. It is truly a country of great diversity and complexity. If they could just get rid of god from every second sentence, they may realise that it not a greater being that has them in this present situation.

    Funnily Hels, I was just looking at another US city and struck that myself. While the greater area is easy to work out, I am not sure how the inner 'city' is defined. Clearly with such a huge number of residents, it not like our cbds.

    BDT, you painted two marvellous contradictions. It does puzzle me how otherwise intelligent people still believe in all this god and creation rubbish.

    Oh FruitCake. You have got it. I forgot about what you have reminded me of. Maids, yes. Hazel! Martinis were so exotic. Having now sampled the odd one, I can understand how a husband would like one when he gets home. And the lamps connected to the light switch! Marvellous, except it might cost a bit more when you move and the lamps have to be disconnected and reconnected.

    JayLa, remember the last royal wedding. I recall thinking as the camera panned around the church, how different the ladies would have been dressed if it was an American wedding. As well as the linguistic divide, there is a huge cultural divide too.

    Jah Teh, it didn't occur to me, but you are so right.

  8. What I know about America comes purely from eatching sitcoms on TV. All the houses are huge, most are two storey, the bedrooms are so big they have room for a couch and a TV in there, the kitchens are all enormous with every modern appliance one could ever wish for, everyone has unlimited hot water, no-one ever does any housework yet the home is always immaculate, everyone, EVERYONE! has perfectly aligned very white teeth.

  9. I want that and every other monumental pile I've seen on Midsomer Murders.

  10. Same River. US tv set very high standards for us to attain.

    Jayne, US timber houses always looked slightly like they would not last. Not so the houses in Midsomer. They have been there for a long time and will be there for a long time.

  11. The thing is that the U.S. has so many different cultures and ways of thinking. Moving from northern California to Oklahoma was like moving to another country so vast are the differences. And I say northern California because it is so different from southern California.

    The only large city I know well is San Francisco and it is broken down into districts such as SOMA, The Mission, Bernal Heights, The Avenues, Richmond, Haight-Ashbury, Twin Peaks, etc. I used to live in The Mission and the only reason I'd leave, for the most part, would be to go to work. And, each of the above districts has different personalities and cultures. I think other countries are more familiar with the middle-class suburbian lifestyles.

  12. I think TV confuses Americans too....or at least it confused me.

    When we lived in NYC, we had to move to a new apartment. I insisted to Tim that we move to a place where we could have a life like "Friends".

    It didn't work out.

    In the 1990's, it seemed so many popular books and TV shows took place in NYC. It's like the rest of America didn't exist.

  13. It is such a big country Towanda (I am sure I will get used to the name). Unlike Australia which is mostly desert in its centre, your country is well populated.

    Yet Dina, none of the shows were set in a tenement full of black people. I am not sure that it was a good idea for American tv execs and Hollywood, to a lesser extent,to give the world such a false impression of the US.

  14. Not really but when we use the owrd "Thong" we know what it means but means something totally different to them - we used to call it "Going to the pictures" sadly we all use the word "Movies" now -

  15. Middle Child,

    Agreed.. alternative, non-Australian words were always available eg flip flops for thongs and a thong for bathers.

    But I do care when Australian television programmes and commercial outlets use American words. If a tomato sauce company puts "catsup" on the label, I will not buy it. If a sweet biscuit company calls the biscuits "cookies", ditto.

  16. Towanda's point about different cultures under the US 'banner' isn't something I usually think of. And yet, even in a country like OZ with a far smaller population, I can draw some (very broad and non-binding!!) generalisations about the various states! It's almost offensive when people talk about 'typical Australians' - to me there's no such thing, so why would we then apply that to the US??!!

  17. Andrew; there is a movie starring Joe Pesci called The Super. It's about a slum landlord and features a tenement full of black people. It's hilarious. Track it down and watch it.

  18. MC, and don't forget going to the flicks. We have in the past had some word play fun with thong.

    Hels, flip flops is a Kiwi isn't it? We are of a certain age aren't we. I too fume at cookies, although there was a Mrs something cookies, which I didn't mind as they were clearly a foreign product. I can remember at quite a young age being very annoyed by McDonalds labelling the rubbish bins, Trash.

    Red, I don't think we are quite the extremes of people that the US has, but your point is valid. We certainly have an archetypical Australian, but not a typical one. Must dash, got to toss another marinated prawn onto the grill plate.

  19. River, I just knew as I was typing that, someone would come up with a movie. Well done you.

  20. Are there any public or shared wards in American hospitals? Noone who is hospitalised in American movies or television shows ever ends up in anything other than a private room which seems odd from what I read about their system.

  21. I have never seen one Victor. Mind you, do we see them on our locally made programmes?

  22. Our programs are much the same Andrew but I did she a share ward depicted in a recent episode of 'Winners and Losers'.

    Mind you the patient was a support character. Maybe it is only the lead characters who warrant private health insurance in televisionland?


Whenever I wish I was young again, I am sobered by memories of algebra.