I was reading through the replies to my last blog entry when I was struck by an eternal truth, as was remarked by another great writer: “We are two nations divided by a common language.”  This remark, according to a quick Google search, is ascribed to George Bernard Shaw, although it could easily have been Oscar Wylde or Mark Twain.  There were Americanisms aplenty, including “Flipping a House” and “Yardwork.”  

I had encountered “Yardwork” recently through reading Bill Bryson’s “Notes From A Big Country.” What we refer to as gardens are known as yards across the water, but “Flipping” in the UK is either a mild expletive (another Americanism!) or the act of inverting a small object, such as pancakes, burgers, or beer mats.  The takeaway from the entry is that people are much the same, whatever part of the world you hail from.

It got my thinking:  What other things do we say or do differently?  One thing that occurred to me was the way we use simple expressions, such as how we write the date and describe the floors of a building.

An image came to me of a hapless American coming to a meeting in the UK.  He was sent an e-mail, inviting him to attend a meeting on 6/4/2007.  The meeting was to be held on the first floor.  Not only did he attend nearly two months late, but he went to the wrong floor — the meeting was scheduled for the 6th of April, but he came on the 4th of June; he went to the ground floor, but the first floor is the one that he would have known as the second floor.

And we think that network protocols are confusing!

This is another thing that can cause confusion on a helpdesk, especially with the current trend towards outsourcing the support function.  In the UK, we hear a lot of Americanisms from the large amount of US TV shows (or programs, as we call them here), but more and more call centres are moving to the Indian sub-continent, where, although they generally speak very good English, it is usually another local form of English, and many of their usages and idioms are not in common use elsewhere.

The main raison d’etre of a helpdesk is communication.  When it is so easy to misunderstand each other, it isn’t a surprise that sometimes we get it wrong.

What other phrases are confusing to people to those from a different country?  If there is a phrase or idiom that makes you laugh, let me know.