Ok, I need to revise my last blog slightly (which I knew would happen). This post is not strictly about Californians, but about the melting pot factor that shapes this State. And it’s about the English. Well, first things first. I explained how nice it was to be surrounded by people who were laid back and to not feel you had to engage in arguments 24/7. Nice, yes, but sometimes also a bit (dare I say it?)… boring. The exchange of opinions and the discussion thereof can be very satisfying, and as much as the constant European need to voice an opinion can be tiring, it also makes for interesting conversations. It can be very bland without a bit of provocation and arguing. It seems to me that everything here has to be “safe”, ie politically/culturally/religiously correct. This is the most litigious State; people sue each other left, right and centre. So everybody’s really careful not to upset anybody. And it seems that the language has been watered down to serve this purpose. Because there are so many different nationalities here, with varying degrees of command of English, even the language has become something that is easily understood and has no power to upset. As a consequence, you’d be hard pressed to find irony, ambiguity, plays on words and all those fun things anywhere. Everything is straight out, to the point with no room for misunderstanding. I’m not talking about academia, of course, or law, but everyday living, the language you’re surrounded by everywhere. I constantly have to bite my tongue and find different ways of saying what I was going to say just so I’m clear and people can understand and don’t get upset. This, I think, is especially hard for English people, and not just because of the language. British English couldn’t be more different to Californian English. English humour is something very tricky, and not easy to understand for somebody who’s never been hit by/had the pleasure of encountering it. The realisation hit us rather painfully the other night, when we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. Fist I have to say something about British English though. Those familiar with it (and I don’t mean having learnt English at school and speaking it reasonably well, but those who have experienced the English) know that this language exists only through irony and ambiguity. If you have two English people in a room, they converse as if playing tennis: it’s a constant lobbing the ball back and forth (the ball being witty/ironic remarks), and the longer the ball stays in the air, the better. Sometimes it’s out, and sometimes it hits the net, but it’s a game nonetheless. They love to play on words, and generally say things by saying the opposite. This can be infuriating ( I can only imagine the dismay of people doing business with England), because you think they can never be serious, but it’s great fun when you’re aware of it, or know how to play the game (which isn’t easy, and took me a while to figure out). So, to come back to that evening. My husband, being English, and having a very sharp and quick-witted sense of humour, was being himself (those of you who know him know what I mean) and started his usual tennis match of conversation instead of just boring chit-chat (which he’s incapable of, but which people here do). Present were my friend, a non-native speaker of English who has lived in this country for ages and who likes to laugh but doesn’t understands S’s humour (but is aware of the fact that she doesn’t), her American husband (who has got used to S’s humour) and another non-native speaker, who seemed funny and engaging, but didn’t get S at all. Anyway, we were all eating, drinking and laughing, when said woman got up all of a sudden and stormed out, accusing S of insulting her and criticising her lack of English proficiency. Everybody was taken aback (and we couldn’t really figure out what exactly was said). Basically, it was an extreme case of misunderstanding an English person (S has had a gun pointed at his head once precisely because of this). I went out after her and tried to explain how and why it was a misunderstanding, and she finally came back to the table, but needless to say, the mood was ruined.
I think one of the biggest problems here is that the English (being obviously the original people to speak the language) have honed the language and made it precise, witty and wonderful (just like every other language has been honed by its native speakers). But they’re not always aware that other people who seem to speak it well, don’t have the same grasp on it as a native speaker. And because English people generally don’t speak other languages because they don’t need to (or so they think), they’re not aware of how different their English is. Everybody these days speaks English, it’s the perfect global language, it’s easy to learn and people feel that they can speak it well very quickly. A teacher of mine once said to me that English is a language that starts out simple and becomes more difficult the better you speak it – and oh, how right was he! The English spoken by everybody (let’s call it global English) is a very watered down version of what it could be. Speaking it well is an amazing feat, and it can only be achieved by understanding the culture as well. I’m working on it!!!
And now I’ll end my last blog of 2010. Tomorrow is another year. I might talk about new year’s resolutions, or something less contentious than my last few posts! Happy New Year!

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