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Transatlantic Trouble: British and American English

Although British and American people technically speak the same language, there are lots of variations in the kinds of English we speak. Here we’ll talk about some of the differences we’ve experienced, focusing on both language and culture. Today we’ll talk about beach vacations.

♦♦♦♦♦ Water ice?! ♦♦♦♦♦

SAM says:

We’re lucky enough to currently be on a beach vacation at the Jersey shore (New Jersey) this week. It’s Sarah’s first American beach vacation and I’ve been introducing her to some local beach traditions!

Here at the Jersey shore, we’ve seen a number of things you wouldn’t see at a U.K. seaside town. There is an amusement game called “skee-ball,” which is very popular here, and was actually invented in New Jersey. In skee-ball the player bowls a wooden ball up an incline and over an end ramp, called a “ball-hop,” which launches into circular targets of varying sizes, with smaller targets being worth more points. Though popular in American beach arcades, Sarah had never played (or heard of) skee-ball before this trip.

There are also plenty of seaside treats here that you wouldn’t necessarily find in the U.K. either. “Funnel cake” is a sweet made by pouring doughnut batter through a funnel into hot oil. They batter sticks together in a sort of “birds-nest” shape as it cooks. It’s served with powdered sugar on a paper plate. Funnel cake originated with German settlers in Pennsylvania, which explains why Sarah had never had it in the U.K.

Another common treat you can buy at the Jersey shore, with a particularly confusing name, is “water ice.” Water ice is the regional name (in Philadelphia and the surrounding area) for what many other Americans call “Italian ice,” a sweet frozen fruit dessert. You may find similar frozen treats in the U.K., but they’d never call them water ice!

SARAH says:

I’m enjoying being at the “shore” or “seaside,” as we’d say in the U.K. It’s pretty similar in that there are lots of beach activities, sweet treats for kids to eat, and plenty of family fun.

In the U.K. when I was on holiday as a child we’d always play a little version of golf called “crazy golf.” It’s much smaller and there are different obstacles that get in the way of the ball’s path, such as windmills and ramps. It makes it more fun! They have something like this in the U.S. too, called “miniature golf.”

Kids at the seaside in the U.K. love to eat something called “candy floss.” It’s sugar that is heated and spun into a big fluffy web. It can be dyed all different colours. Candy floss is one of the memorable tastes of my childhood seaside holidays. Of course they have an equivalent here, but it’s known as “cotton candy” instead.

The major difference I’m experiencing here is the weather! In the U.K. the weather is very unpredictable — it could be two weeks of sunshine or two weeks of colder temperatures, wind and rain! To prepare for this kind of weather we take something called a “wind break” to the beach with us. It’s a panel of fabric that blocks the wind so that you can sunbathe and relax on the beach! They don’t seem to need these here though, as the weather is a lot hotter in summer!

* * *

Sam and Sarah Greet have been teaching English and travelling the world together for 10 years. Sarah is from Bristol in the South West of England, and Sam is from Philadelphia in the USA. Despite being together as a couple for many years, they are always finding differences in the way they speak.

*These views are their own, and not those of the British Council.

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We offer practical English lessons for adults in Tokyo and Osaka.

For more information, please visit British Council

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