You Say Potato Chips, I Say Crisps

English? Who needs that? I’m never going to England!

– Homer Simpson

OK, before we go any further, I want to get one thing clear. I am not from here. I am an Englishman living in Minnesota. And I’ve got to tell you, Americans do things differently to the English. There are the obvious differences that everyone knows. An American car has a hood, a trunk, a windshield, and turn signals; an English car has a bonnet, a boot, a windscreen, and indicators. All that’s fine. In fact, it’s fun! Like learning a new language without the hard grammar stuff.

One area I find particularly tricky, is that of home improvement. I have the hardest time referring to that thing on the sink as a faucet. To me, it always has been, and, probably, always will be a tap. But, I have learned the language, and know that, to be understood here, I need to call it a faucet.

Recently, I needed a tool to remove a headless screw from a cabinet door. So, off I went to Menards, our favorite home improvement store. “Excuse me,” I said to the young man at the desk, “I am looking for a stud extractor.” Immediately, I could tell from his expression that this conversation was not off to the best start. “A what?” he said. To buy myself time, I said it again. He looked puzzled.

It’s at this point that I usually change tack and describe the activity that I would like to perform. When I did this, he exclaimed, “Oh! A screw extractor!” And I suddenly realized how my request had sounded to him. In England, a stud is a type of screw, whereas in America, studs are pieces of wood used to build wall frames that sheet-rock [plaster-board in England] is attached to.

So, to him, I was asking for a tool that would remove framing members from a wall. Perhaps he thought someone was playing a prank on me, in the same way that apprentices might be told to go for a long stand or some striped paint. I can only imagine that, given my apparent age, he must have thought me amongst the most gullible of people to have ever lived.

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