Aug 082013
 August 8, 2013  bilingualism, multiculturalism, travel

Giselle Shardlow is the author of Kids Yoga Stories. Her yoga-inspired children’s books get children moving, learning, and having fun. Giselle draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, yogi, and mom to write her stories found at or on Amazon worldwide.

Same Language, Different Culture Confusion - Kids Yoga Stories on

Australian Waterfall

“The similarities are superficial, but the differences are fundamental,” an American man once told me about living in Australia.

When we live in another English-speaking country, some unexpected challenges can arise. We may speak the same language, but getting lost in translation is still easy because of the differences in our cultures.

Having lived in three English-speaking countries, I’ve noticed that the day-to-day life is quite similar, but the fundamental differences can either be a light-hearted surprise or a stop-dead-in-your-tracks experience. The awareness, appreciation, and acceptance of these differences can help families to integrate well into newly adopted countries.

10 questions to ponder while living in another English-speaking country:

1. Are the social graces different from what you are accustomed to?

Leaning in for a kiss on the cheek, as you would in Sydney, might catch someone off guard if they are used to getting a handshake in San Francisco. Awkward! In a place like San Francisco, it’s more common for strangers to strike up conversations in public, while people from other places might keep more to themselves. Noticing specific social graces might help you to fit in with the locals.

2. Does your accent or slang get in the way of effective communication?

While I was living in Australia, the cab drivers would often drive to the wrong part of town after mistaking my accent for my having requested a different neighborhood! You might have to get used to locals chuckling at the way you say certain words, like “tomato” or “process.” Aussies often add “ies” to the end of words, like “sunnies” or “cozies.” And they sometimes shorten words to things like “arvo” for afternoon or “uni” for university. Bring a flexible attitude along with your humor and compassion when faced with a challenging language situation.

3. Do they use a different word for the same thing?

I remember standing in the veggie section with a grocery list from my Aussie roommate, thinking, “Capsicum, rock melon, and rocket? What’s that?!” I soon learned that capsicums are peppers, rock melon is a cantaloupe, and rocket is arugula. And as a child in Canada, I was teased for saying, “What a palaver?” and “I’m peckish.”—phrases I’d learned from my British parents. You may be speaking the same language, but different words could be used in different countries. Trust me, you don’t want to be calling your flip-flops “thongs” in Australia.

4. Are there distinct social expectations?

You might be expected to attend birthday and holiday celebrations. Bringing a dish to a potluck dinner is common in San Francisco, but in Sydney, the host will probably provide all the food. Make sure you know if children are invited or not and if alcohol is acceptable. I also noticed that it’s perfectly okay to wait in line to eat at a restaurant in San Francisco, whereas that might be considered odd somewhere else. Social blunders can often be smoothed over by a laugh.

Same Language, Different Culture Confusion - Kids Yoga Stories on

Canadian Mountains

5. Are there any stereotypes that you should be aware of?

Canadians are known for being “nice” and for saying “sorry” a lot. And lot of people assume all Aussies are surfers. Whereas, Americans might be expected to know more about pop culture. Be careful of imposing stereotypes on others in your adopted country and pay attention if the locals have stamped you with a stereotype. It might just help to avoid an awkward social situation.

6. Are there personal questions you shouldn’t ask the locals?

In Sydney, it seemed okay to ask friends about their jobs, house costs, and salary. In San Francisco, that might be considered rude. I’ve had my fair share of foot-in-mouth experiences. Have you? Some cultures are more open to talking about their personal lives, while others keep information about their relationships, life’s challenges, and feelings to themselves.

7. Should you be aware of important traditions or holidays?

Halloween is not commonly celebrated in Australia, but it is very popular in North America. In Australia, no one wants to miss Australia Day in January. American Thanksgiving is a huge celebration in November here in San Francisco, almost bigger than Christmas. Though, that might not be the case all over America. Some cities are more expressively patriotic than others, which might influence how they celebrate their country-specific holidays. Embracing the local celebrations is worth the experience, and you can introduce your own traditions to the locals.

Same Language, Different Culture Confusion - Kids Yoga Stories on

American Forest

8. Is the humor similar or different from what you are used to?

Sydneysiders’ humor might be more dry, dark, and sarcastic, where other cultures might be more slap-stick, silly, or jokey. People in some cultures share humor openly with everyone, whereas some save their jokes for only their friends. Laughter in a movie theater may differ, as well. Yet another potential embarrassing situation in your new city is when a joke flops because the punch line didn’t translate.

9. Do you need to be sensitive to the way that you deliver your communication?

Australians may be honest and straightforward in their conversations. In contrast, Canadians might try to avoid confrontation. Cities around the world have different expectations for swearing, politically-correct language, and religious or cultural/heritage references. An innocent comment might be drastically misinterpreted.

10. Are manners expressed differently?

I found that Australians generally say thank you when they ask for something, like “I’ll have a coffee, thanks.” I’ve heard a few Americans say “uh-huh” in response to a “thank you,” which may surprise someone expecting, “You’re welcome.” Gratitude and manners may be expressed differently, but have no doubt that their intentions are the same. Be open and non-judgmental.

My husband and I will continue to ask ourselves these questions as we raise our daughter to be tri-cultural. I’m sure we’ll make some mistakes along the way, but we hope that she’ll feel as though she can fit into various cultures.

What are your same language-different culture confusion stories? We would love to hear from you!

Kids Yoga StoriesJoin the Luke’s Beach Day virtual book launch in June and July 2013 to celebrate an Australian-inspired yoga story. Also available in eBook format for your holiday travels. Get details and free kids yoga resources in your inbox by signing up for Giselle’s weekly Kids Yoga Stories Newsletter on her website, or check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.Giselle Shardlow


  5 Responses to “Same Language – Different Culture Confusion: 10 Questions to Ponder While Living in Another English-Speaking Country {Kids Yoga Stories}”

  1. Great article. And very interesting observations. I felt the same when I was in Quebec. I spoke the same language but it felt so different.

  2. This was a great article, and it also got me thinking about my native language. Spanish in Puerto Rico, is not the same as the Spanish in Mexico, Ecuador, Spain, etc. We have to be very careful when we say something for instance in Dominican Republic because it may seem offensive whereas to us in Puerto Rico it means something else. Oh, and the accents! Ahhhhhhhhhh I can tell who is from Cuba, Spain, Dominican Republic, or Mexico because of the accent. Though we all speak Spanish it’s all so very different. Puerto Ricans talk fast, and in a sing-song way… LOL Great post!

  3. I love this post. Stupid is considered a huge insult and very close to a swear word in Zambia but it appears in some of the children’s books my kids have so we’ve had to be careful to always read it as “silly.”

  4. Really enjoyed reading this, I can certainly relate to a lot of the points that you made. I’m from the UK (originally from Scotland, now living in Wales after having also lived in England). When I was in the USA for a conference a few years ago and was about to head to my room after checking at the accommodation, I asked if there was a ‘lift’. I meant what in the USA is referred to as an ‘elevator’ and confused the staff as ‘lift’ it got them thinking of lift as in a lift in a car (i.e. being drive somewhere). I got a great comment from an American blogger on a post I’d done about the subject of nappies and nappy changing. He mentioned that he wasn’t sure what is about at first but got that I was on about ‘diapers’ from the context. I knew that the term ‘diaper’ was used in the USA quite a lot but wasn’t sure if ‘nappies’ was also sometimes used. I think I’ve found out now!

  5. Thanks everyone for sharing your perspective. It really is a unique experience to live overseas as an expat and it’s a gift to connect with others who are going through similar situations in different parts of the world.

    Thank you!
    Kids Yoga Stories

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