Same language, different world
Posted April 21, 2006

Is it just me or did spring break feel more like a weekend than a seven-day vacation? As a British exchange student here at the University of La Verne, I made the mistake of assuming our Easter holiday would be the same as the month-long period we get in England…sadly not.

I don’t have a telly in my dorm room here – for the uncultured, a telly is a television – and at first I wondered how on earth I was going to survive without the little box, but after watching some American TV it seems the only thing I’m missing is commercials. I’m amazed there is even time for programs to air with the amount of advertisements they have to contend with.

I get myself comfortable on the sofa in Leo’s Den just in time for my favorite “Friends” episode, and as the Warner Brothers logo appears on the screen…WHAM! I’m hit with a commercial…funny, I think to myself, I thought the show was about to start, but hey maybe it was an error. Sure enough along comes the title sequence, and as the Rembrandts finish doing their thing…WHAM! More commercials. At this point I’m getting a little peeved; I didn’t fight my friend for control of the remote for nothing. To my disappointment I discover that every four to five seconds – yes, that may be a slight exaggeration but that’s what it felt like to me – I’m subjected to more advertisements. It’s a wonder they can squeeze entire TV shows into 30-minute timeslots.

Last week I stopped off at a McDonalds, at least I think it was a McDonalds, it may have been Carl’s Jr., In-N-Out, Jack In The Box - they all seem the same to me – and I was feeling fairly thirsty so I thought I’d go all-out and order a large soda. Little did I know that a large soda requires a forklift truck to transport it to your car. It was the biggest cup I’ve ever seen in my life. In fact the word “cup” doesn’t really suffice.

“Bucket” would be more appropriate.

Well unsurprisingly the drink took me several weeks to finish. I’m pretty sure I still have some left somewhere. I can’t help but wonder where the need is for a drink of such gargantuan proportions? Surely it’s not physically possible for anyone to be that thirsty?

While we’re on the topic of beverages I have to comment – how much ice does one person need in a drink? A few ice cubes to chill a drink is one thing, but a cup so full of ice there is barely room for any liquid is ridiculous. I may not have been a genius in my science lessons as a kid, but I still remember what I learnt about volume and capacity - the more ice you get in the drink the less drink you get in the drink. I understand that the climate in this country is a fair bit warmer than England – at least it’s supposed to be, the way things have been going so far this year I’m not so sure – and the need for ice cold drinks is greater, but if I’m paying $3 for a cup of Sprite I’d quite like to see some Sprite present.

I was shocked when I first discovered that a pass grade at La Verne was 60 percent or more – at university in England anything greater than 40 percent will get you through – but then the concept of “extra credit” was new to me, and I realized that in America you can pick up points by simply turning up to classes.

As a journalism major the first obstacle for me to deal with was the difference in spelling. I’ve had to learn to remove the letter U from many of my words, and replace S’s with Z’s (which, coincidently are known as Zed’s to me not Zee’s). After all, why write something is your favourite when you can write favorite, and why generalise when you can generalize?

As for speaking American, I’m very conscious of how rapidly the letter T is disappearing from the language. My British accent is accentuated with words like “later” and “what” because I refuse to replace the consonant for a D.

I don’t mean to gripe, and while I absolutely adore shopping in this country - because of the exchange rate everything is so cheap here – I hate the way the sales tax is added to your purchase at the last minute. So you never know exactly how much you’re going to spend in a store. Sure, you could try to calculate it, but for my mathematically-challenged brain that’s really not an option. Why can’t stores just add the tax onto the price-tag like every other country in the world?

The very first time I came to the US of A I had no idea that my purchases would increase in price when I came to pay for them. So, like the clueless lemon that I was, I argued with the store assistant behind the counter when she charged me $21.06 for a pair of flip-flops that were priced at $19.50. She must have thought I was a prized idiot at the time, but how could I have known? It’s not as if there are signs (or are there?).

Fortunately I had the whole accent-thing on my side so the woman knew I was a newbie to the country and not just plain stupid.

Still, I knew there was a percentage calculator on my mobile phone for a reason…

Rhian Morgan, an international student and journalism major, is a staff writer for the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at rhian.morgan@blueyonder.co.uk.

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