Monday, March 23, 2009

Expat influences

A little while ago I was sending an email in English. When reading it back I suddenly realised that I’d used local spellings for several place names without thinking about it. I quickly changed and sent it off but it made me think.

We expats are influenced by our surroundings perhaps more than we realise. I know someone who has lived in France for some years and although his French is still not that good, when speaking English now he finds it difficult to avoid using the French pronunciation of place names rather than their names in English. So without even thinking he’ll say ‘Paris’ as ‘Par-ee’ which he finds very embarrassing with his English speaking friends as it makes him sound pretentious.

I know another person that has lived in Spain for many years and similarly pronounces many ‘C’s as ‘th’ in place names when he’s speaking English. He also finds it embarrassing as his friends accuse him of being affected.

An even more amusing example is a distant relative who after living in Australia for only 12 months returned home on a visit with a broad Aussie accent and describing things as ‘Beut’ and ‘Bonzer’.

Not only is our language affected, but also our outlooks. Many English speaking expats when visiting back home find some things now look a little ‘foreign’ and perhaps a little less desirable than they remember them. I remember having some local cakes on a visit back and finding them massively less appealing than my memories indicated.

Yet it’s not only one-way. My same expat friend above living in France told me that at the local school (apparently 10% of its students are now of English speaking origin) several teachers have commented that the local French children are pronouncing some French words now with an English accent – presumably to their parents’ puzzlement and very probable irritation! The school’s English teacher admits to being inhibited by having native English speaking children in the class, and a history teacher has said some British children have questioned the way certain aspects of European history have been presented.

Even cuisine is affected. In many supermarkets and shops in those countries favoured by expats, one can find British or American foodstuffs that would have been unknown even a decade or so ago in the same areas – this as the local enterprises have woken up to the fact they have a new market to cater for. Some of this even rubs off on local tastes. In many European countries it’s now commonplace to see things such as brownies or crumbles in bakers shops and see them sold under their English names.

So does this mean that we’re all going to end up in a world that has somehow converged into oneness at the expense of diversity?

No, I don’t think so. The world’s too diverse for that. Anyone who thinks otherwise should try, for example, to get the tradesmen in many countries to issue a quotation as opposed to a broad and often meaningless ‘estimate’.

All in all the expat’s influence on the society around them, and vice-versa, can only be a good thing and most understand and welcome that.

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