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American v Britain: The Cultural Translation

As a translation and interpretation company we are very interested in differences between cultures. The more we and our experienced linguists understand and learn how to translate cultural relativism the better our translations become. Although America and Britain speak the same language they have many cultural differences. Thus this example is perfect for conveying that cultural differences need to be understood even when the language that is spoke is the same and particularly when translated across languages.

The Americans and British are very similar in lots of ways. After all 13% claim to have British ancestry and many claim to have some connection to European History. Secondly they are first world western countries and both speak English. In terms of political structure we both follow a neo liberal approach at the moment, pushing the growth of business and capitalism. So we sound pretty much the same right. Wrong! This article will break down three of the main differences between America and Britain. So let’s get ready to get a bit stereotypy but yet reveal some of the crucial differences between the countries.

Drinking

In the UK it is far more acceptable to get very drunk and it is done at a younger age as well. In the UK the legal drinking age is 18 while in the US it is 21. The teenagers of Britain would have a meltdown if they had to wait to 21 and it is not uncommon to start getting drunk at a younger age, getting older siblings and friends to buy alcohol behind the back of unknowing parent. At British universities students are actively encouraged to batter their livers with alcohol being offered cheap drink promotions. This is a big contrast to the states where alcohol is banned in a third of campuses and many students are still not old enough to legally drink. Of course frat and sorority parties are still fairly common. So while the Brits are glugging down double vodka cokes, Americans are sipping their 3% “bud lite”. Okay so maybe not quite but in general the British have less control when it comes to just having a “ couple “ .

Humour

The British are well known for their humour, although people from different cultures can find it hard to figure out at first. Irony and sarcasm make up British humour. There is a lot of reading between the lines with British banter and the repercussions of a sarcastic comment can sometimes not resonate with an unsuspecting victim till later, “wait a minute he was making fun of me”.  In comparison to other cultures British humour seems to evolve around mocking failures, both your own and others. If you can’t laugh at yourself what can you laugh at right? To other cultures and anywhere outside Britain it might seem insensitive. But joking about your dead gran or you dyslexic friend is not a big deal in the UK. Americans get some stick for being slapstick and not getting irony. This is of course not true. After all they have created some of the best comedies of all time, take Friends and The Simpsons. Americans can understand irony however it is just not the foundation of their humour like the UK.  Their humour is often lighter and pleasant. There is often no deep underlying meaning or dual concept. American

humour it could be argued is humour in the purest form.

Values

Americans are seen to be more individualistic than their British counter parts, believing they control their circumstances by how hard they work.  Americans also tend to care much more for punctuality than their UK peers. Everything from classes to a lunch date is expected to start right on time. Along with punctuality, most of the US moves at a faster pace than in the UK. For example, dinners at a restaurant, even a sit-down restaurant, can be finished in under a half-hour. Additionally, you will not have to ask for the bill. It will be brought to you as soon as it is clear to your waiter or waitress that you are finished ordering more items. The vast majority of Americans also tend to be more openly patriotic than Britons. Having been raised reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily at school, many Americans are proud (at times even defensive) of their country.

The differences mentioned only make up some of the features that differ between Americans and Brits. However it’s amazing the differences between two countries that have so many similarities. These differences are magnified between countries that speak different languages and outlines the notion that understanding the cultural presence behind the literal words is key. At Global Voices our experienced linguists don’t just translate literal meaning but translate the underlying tone and sentiment behind the words. A key part of this is of course understanding cultural factors.

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