I’m more than 34 weeks into my American adventure, not that I’m counting. And for all the times I put my foot in it, get on a train heading in completely the wrong direction, or get looked at as if I’m a founding member of the National Association for the Protection of Cockroaches, I don’t think that I’m fitting in all that badly.
I’ve managed to give directions successfully, and can offer helpful advice to tourists stranded in the city. I barely notice that the cars drive on the wrong side of the road, and I even manage to say the word ‘jeez’ in every other sentence. OK, that last bit is a lie. All readers should feel free to shoot on sight if ever you hear me say ‘jeez’, ‘neat’ or ‘dweeb’. Tough on linguistic assimilation, tough on the causes of linguistic assimilation – it’s the only way.
Where I’m most proud is that – unlike Hillary Clinton – I seem to have developed the ability to pick the right word at the right time to suit my audience. There’ll be no misspeaking on my watch, I can tell you. My line of work is all about words, and I constantly have to make sure that I’m spelling the same word in different ways depending on who I’m writing to. And despite some initial expletive-causing errors (thankfully I can shout ‘bollocks’ at the top of my voice here, and people couldn’t care less), I’ve managed to provide color or colour, caliber or calibre, or theater or theatre in the right place at the right time in pretty much all circumstances.
In fact, so good has my ability been to become a language chameleon that I was even worried that maybe I was becoming a little too accomplished at this ‘being American’ lark. I’m possibly a little over-sensitive to any accusation of becoming more US than UK, given that a sizeable proportion of my friends regularly threaten to bring down all manner of violence on me if they ever hear even the slightest indication of a mid-Atlantic twang. Frankly, the fact that I’ve barely mastered English should be enough to convince them that I’ve got no chance of speaking American, but still they carry out precise scientific tests every time I land in Britain, just to make sure that my accent hasn’t shifted by even an nth of a degree.
Sadly, I fear that my Americanization may already be under way. Yesterday I drafted up some copy for a colleague, and correctly managed to use ‘center’, ‘licensing’ and ‘honor’ among many other words. I avoided every possible vocabulary trap with considerable aplomb, and sent it off for approval with a smile on my face.
And indeed, everything proved to be perfect. Except for one spelling mistake.
I’d spelled ‘merchandising’ with a ‘z’. Merchandizing. Every other word in the American language appears to have a ‘z’ rather than an ‘s’ before ‘ing’, so I just naturally assumed that merchandising followed suit. Incredibly, I’d managed to over-translate. I had to be taught how to use the English language by somebody whose country can’t say herb without dropping the ‘h’.
I’m more American than an American, it would seem.
Sure you can tell me that some people do spell it ‘merchandizing’ but that’s no comfort to me now. I am but a short step from eating pumpkin pie and putting my hand on my heart for the Star Spangled Banner. The end is nigh.