American As A Second Language

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American as a Second Language On arriving in America from Australia 3 years ago I discovered that there were several differences and similarities between the two countries. The first and probably the biggest of these was cars and driving.

American cars were interesting to me. They made the same annoying revving sound at 5:00 AM as they did in Australia, but when I looked to find the source of the noise it was on the wrong side of the road, and apparently without a driver but with a passenger. I have since learned that American cars are supposed to drive on the right side of the road not the left as they do in Australia. Many an angry driver would shout at me, "Why don't you drive on the right side of the road!" This was always confusing to me as I thought I was on the right side, which happens to be the left side or something like that.

You think that's confusing? Imagine my surprise when getting into a car for the first time, and finding that the steering wheel was not where it should have been, the gear lever was on the wrong side, but oh relief, the pedals were the same way around, even if they were on the wrong side of the car. My second lesson in American cars was learned here, the steering wheel and all the driving gear is on the opposite side to that of Australian cars.

On mastering the driving I needed to find a petrol station, as I was low on petrol. This too was confusing until I was informed that in America, gas is used to fill a car, and you get this at a gas station. To Australians gas is what you use for barbecues or heating. I finally pull up next to a gas pump and proceed to work out how much gas I need, only to find yet another difference. Not only is it not petrol, it is not in litres (liters in America) either. How many gallons in a liter or is it liters in a gallon? This was easily solved however, I just kept filling until the petrol, sorry, gas tank was full. Gallons or liters, full is full in both countries.

While at the gas station I thought I would check the oil, the tyre pressures and change the windscreen wiper blades. This was where I learned of several other differences between the two countries.

The oil was still called oil, much to my relief, so all I had to do was open the bonnet and check the levels. I couldn't find the release lever, so I went and asked an attendant, "Could you please open the bonnet for me?" This was met with a blank stare and "Ma'am, you want me to find your hat?" So I repeated the question adding that I wanted to check the oil level but couldn't find the release lever.

"You want the hood opened in that case Ma'am." He said.

Making a mental note to myself to say hood instead of bonnet, I checked the oil levels. On to my next task, changing the windscreen wiper blades. I was almost too scared to ask the attendant for help again, but on seeing I was having trouble he offered his assistance anyway. " Ma'am would you like me to change the windshield wiper blades for you while I am here?" Never have I been so glad that I had not spoken out. "Windscreen is windshield," I said to myself, adding yet another mental note. "That would be great," I said, "I will check the tyres (spelt tires in America) whilst you are doing that." "Don't forget the spare in the trunk." He said.

Mental note number three, trunk is boot. Was I ever going to get the hang of living in America? Having finally done what I set out do; gas, oil tires and windshield wiper blades I left the gas station and drove straight through a red light, or at least that is what the police officer told me I had done when he pulled me over. I didn't see a light but accepted his word for it. He gave me a lecture on correct driving technique and left me sitting very red faced on the side of the road. I looked back to see if I could spot the light I had missed, and there it was, suspended over the intersection, not on a pole next to the road as they are in Australia. Mental note number four, look up for traffic lights.

Driving home on the right side of the road with a tank full of gas, plenty of oil, air in my tires, new windshield wiper blades and looking up at every intersection, I started thinking that I could probably get used to all these differences over time. At least I was living in a country where the main language was English and how difficult could that be. After all English is English, isn't it?

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