I’ve lived in the Big Apple* for about fifteen months now, long enough to get into the swing of living here, and to have acquired and internalised some of the important skills and knowledge required to live in the most charmingly obnoxious city in
the world, the USA, the state of New York.
I originally started planning a series of posts that was “the Britisher’s Guide to Living in the States,” then I realised I knew nothing about living in 49 of those States – even though I could probably bullshit Massachusetts, come to think about – and then I realised that the biggest piece of advice I could give a Briton coming to live in New York City would be “live in London or another big metropolis first. It’s a great way of acquiring important skills like underground transit usage and sleeping through traffic noises, without having to also deal with monochromatic money or not having easy access to Branston Pickle. I also have very little experience of being an adult living anywhere other than London, so that’s why my advice has to be limited.
But even with those specifications, I believe I have learned enough in my time living here that I can help out any one who might be interested in leaving one city for the other.
1. Learn the language
Ahahaha, you’re thinking, she’s going to make a joke about how the US and the UK speak different dialects. How funny and original, you’re thinking. Certainly nothing like I’ve ever read before in attempts to be satirical
To which I say: shut up, you sarcastic arsehole.
It’s remarkable. You have no idea the size of the barriers set up by dialectic differences are until you move out of your comfort zone and go somewhere where you don’t speak the standard dialect. It’s an object lesson in itself.
I speak standard British English (Queen’s English – sounds posh, dunnit?) and I spent 29 years of my life living in London and the environs, where the native accent was in line with ‘typical’ English accent, and where the local dialect was, as well, the Queen’s English – give or take an ‘innit’ or a leading ‘H’ respectively.
So it was a serious culture shock to be transplanted into a place where everyone around me considers themselves to speak “without an accent” (no such thing), and where I have to acquire an internal language monitor. Where I continually run the risk of not being understood, and where my normal method of making myself better understood to go slower, yes, but also to plum up and Lumley-fy my accent, actually makes me harder to follow.
This is, of course, nothing like what is experienced by English Language Learners, or people whose accent deviates more strongly from ‘standard’, but it’s incredibly illustrative, to suddenly have to watch what I say, because people do not understand the way I tell time. Nothing like having my privilege poked at slightly to show quite how steeped in it I am.
I can’t help with accent correction, because I don’t have an ear for accents myself, but I have learned a whole new vocabulary, which I share for your benefit
|Word||You might think…||What it means in New York|
|Hero||Mark Cavendish||A sandwich|
|Superhero||Marvelman||A big sandwich|
|Sub||A boat designed to go underwater||A sandwich|
|Torpedo||A weapon often employed by a sub||A sandwich|
|Panini||Where all your pocket money went||A sandwich|
|Reuben||Freddy Krueger||A sandwich|
|Monte Cristo||A classic French adventure novel||A sandwich|
|Grinder||A device for serving pepper||A sandwich|
|Subway||A sandwich||The tube.|
There, I hope that is informative.
For other words, I’ve found the following two rules of thumb to be useful:
- If it sounds Italian, it is probably a meat.
- If it sounds Yiddish, it is probably delicious.
If you’re wondering about words that New Yorkers might use for things other than food, don’t worry, so am I.
*No, no one calls it that. I remained saddened by that fact.