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Most expats probably don’t realize if and when they “go native.” As a Brit in the U.S., it’s even subtler because there’s no language barrier to begin with (well, not much of one), meaning that you never really “start thinking” in the new language.
Ah, but there are certain telltale signs anyway.
You can’t remember which words are British and which are American.
With certain words like bonnet and boot you really have to use the American English (“hood” and “trunk”) to be understood. The car word I have trouble with is “windshield” versus “windscreen;” I can never remember which one goes in which country. (It’s “windshield” for the U.S. by the way.)
You vary your vocabulary depending on whom you’re talking to.
With your (American) kids, you might say “cookie” instead of “biscuit” and “popsicle” instead of “ice-lolly,” but as soon as you’re on the phone to your British family it’s all “Gordon Bennet,” “knackered” and Coronation Street references. If you have a regional accent, that gets thicker too!
You occasionally hear an “r” at the end of your words.
While I haven’t gone as American as Andrew Sullivan (who has, I will confess, been here six years longer), if I’m saying “or” followed by a pause for thought, there is sometimes an audible “r” sound that was never there before. With some expat Brits, it’s the “t” that goes first, morphing into a very soft “d” sound in words like “butter” and “party.”
You don’t hear your American kids’ accents.
When we go to England every summer, I’m always surprised when anyone calls my kids “American.” We’ve had neighbors’ children knocking at the door asking if they can “play with the Americans,” shop assistants asking why they speak differently from me, and people in airports looking from me to my kids and back again. Even though they imitate me on a daily basis, prancing around the kitchen saying “banana” and “yogurt” like I do, it never really registers that they have a different accent.
Words that were inappropriate a decade ago now don’t seem quite as offensive.
When my big kids were growing up, I wouldn’t let them say “butt,” “fart” and “crud,” even though most of their friends did and nobody seemed to mind. With my 10-year-old, I know I’m more lax—as long as he doesn’t say them when we get to England …
You’re on your guard when you go back to the U.K.
Most of the time people comment that I haven’t lost my accent, but some lie in wait for any sign of having crossed over. “Oooh, you sounded really American just then,” they’ll say with glee, as if being influenced by 24 years in another country is a sign of weakness or moral laxity. These days I just smile and hope it conveys a “Well, what would you expect” look.
How has an extended time in America affected your behavior, Brits?