damn, it’s a good thing I got a knack for languages, because every day is an exercise in subcultural translation.
For example, I was chatting on IM with Winter:
Me: Hi, what’s up?
Winter: Erm…not sure how to respond to that, really.
Turns out they don’t use the phrase “what’s up” in Britain (and here’s where I quote Oscar Wilde’s quip about two countries separated by a common language). And in explaining it I realized it’s a more complex phrase than I imagined. It can mean “how are you,” “what’s going on,” “what are you doing,” “what’s the problem,” or just “hi.” And just with vocabulary in general, even though we’re both very well read, we’ve decided that there needs to be an American-British dictionary.
And my parents have taken to refering to Winter as my Friend. As in, “So, when’s your Friend coming to visit?” You can just hear the capital F. I find it amusing, like Winter and I are some sort of notorious duo, like Thelma and Louise. Oh, there’s Andygrrl and her Friend, watch out for them! (They can’t pronounce her name either, it’s Welsh, I find it lovely and elegant but it’s a bit much for my midwestern parents). It must be a generational thing, because I’ve told them she’s my girlfriend.
And that’s another one that always trips me up, deciphering the straight woman’s girlfriend from the dyke’s Girlfriend. I find it odd that straight women would refer to friends that way, as if “friend” is inherently male and they have to specify the sex; but you would never hear someone refer to their “female friend.” Being in a relationship does make it easier to casually out myself in conversation…except when they don’t get it, and I have to go, “No, no, my Girlfriend.” Don’t even get me started on Brits and their ubiquitous use of the word “partner,” for straights and gays alike. We don’t have any good words to describe these intimate people in our lives, and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe our cultural skittishness around sex and emotion (seriously, only one word for “love”? And getting a clear definition for sex that’s not hetero missionary position is an adventure in itself).
I remember one of my first literary theory classes, the professor brought in a boombox and played the Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” to illustrate the principles of Deconstruction theory, which essentially says that all language ultimately fails and hinders true communication. Word. (Boy, try explaining that one to someone who doesn’t speak English.)
And you don’t even want to know how many spelling errors I’ve had to correct in this one. My head hurts.