Same language, different ballgame

I asked at reception for a plaster. The young woman at the desk shot me a blank look and shifted uncomfortably in her chair before giving a little cough and asking if I’d like an elastic band.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his piece is for anyone who’s ever thought that speaking the same language guarantees you’ll be understood! You can find it over at Expat Quotes, a website dedicated to providing relevant information for expats and international travellers. Have a read and a laugh at my expense, and be sure to leave a comment about any misunderstandings you’ve encountered…

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Ha, ha! Remind me of calling to make an appointment with my family doctor when I first arrived in Canada. “What time’s surgery?” I asked in all innocence. “Surgery? You want surgery?” replied the astonished receptionist. 🙂 I’ve just finished reading “Single in the City” by Michele Gorman and she has some equally wonderful examples of linguistic misunderstandings going the other way (North America—>UK).

  2. A plaster? That’s a new one on me! When I moved to Dubai I was surrounded by so many different cultures… including several ‘English’ speaking ones, who used some crazy words for things I thought were the same the world over. Not so! I’ll never forget the day I was chatting with a friend from Kenya who invited me for lunch. I was wearing shorts so I said, “Let me just go and get some pants on.” She looked at me puzzled and then burst out laughing. ‘Pants’ to her was ‘underwear’ and what I should have said in her vernacular was ‘trousers’. I started to go to bries instead of barbeques, wore running shoes instead of sneakers and dropped over to the neighbors (from Zimbabwe) for a ‘dop’ at happy hour. Putting things in the ‘bin’ took on a whole new meaning… and, dont’ get me started on the great Craic we had!

    Happy chatting!
    Anne 🙂

    1. Ever since a meeting with my eldest daughter’s teacher in which she commented on the temperature and her regret at not wearing pants, *snorts from behind tightly clamped hand* we have consistently enquired as to whether Mrs N remembered her underwear today – much to J’s weary annoyance!
      What’s a “dop”? Is it the same thing as a “drop” (of the strong stuff)?

  3. So true! I have had the same problem in Jamaica, although no longer. I used to put on a Cockney accent and call my work colleagues “mate” sometimes, for a laugh… Didn’t Churchill or someone say that the U.S. and England were two countries “divided by a common language”? When we were in Australia, it was even worse! Not so much accent, but so many funny words and expressions!!

  4. I’m a bit late into this discussion. I am a Canadian and mentioned to a South African while touring in Switzerland after a busy day that “my dogs were barking”, which meant that my feet were sore. He was quite surprised when I explained it to him.

    1. I’ve never heard that one before! Thanks for sharing it with us. I get comments from so many Canadians in far-flung corners of the world; you guys sure love to travel but you always come home 🙂 Now, after living here for over two years, I can see why…

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