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Water Cooler Chats

It feels like it's been a very long time that I have been self conscious when I first speak to people at work.

It feels much longer then almost 2 years.

In Canada, I was the friendly communications girl, who doubled as an HR person when new people arrived in the building. I was always the one who would be super-smiley, starting up a conversation with anyone who happened to be in my vicinity.

I always tried to remember something about everyone, so that when I saw them again in the staff kitchen I had a "topic of conversation" to spark up with them.

I can't do that here.

I couldn't do that in Leeds.

It's not because I'm now aware that the American-Canadian "way" comes off as a bit fake to the dry-wit Brits. I am not afraid to continue being me. There's no reason to change my personality just because I've changed my postal code - er postcode.

And yes, I still make sure every person who serves me, opens the door for me, takes my bus fare, even smiles at me, knows I want them to "have a nice day." All UK-ers: I really really do. And as I've said in the past, when we say it at home, we really really meant it.

It is because I am fully aware that as soon as I open my mouth, I will get a strange look from whomever it is I have just spoken to. I will take them aback. I cannot have a casual exchange with anyone. My accent gives me away.

It's not that I blame them. Looking back, if I was squishing out my tea bag into my large mug on a Monday morning back in the tiny staff kitchen in my Toronto workplace and some one came out with, "Ah, I'm knackered today. Need to wise up and stop going out on a the lash on a Sunday night," I think I would do a double take as well.

You see, culturally, our conversations are different.

What I would want to say to someone would be this:

"Hello there! Good morning Bob - How are you? How was your weekend? Back to Monday morning eh?"

I might manage to get it all out before confusion set in, however people are creatures of habit. If you come across someone you don't know in the office, you at least feel the one thing you will have in common is language. And you'll be thrown if you're hearing words that don't normally come into small talk conversations.

And even if people can hear past the accent, the words will be odd. The phrases are different.

It's no longer a casual encounter. It's a chance-foreigner meeting. One that compels people to say things like "you're not from here" or "so, where are you from?"

In no way am I saying I don't enjoy people's curiosity.

It just means that my interaction with them cannot be your average morning coffee/tea kitchen conversation.

But I also know that I have changed my habits, words and phrases to the point that I probably won't be able to have an average one with anyone from home either.

Not necessarily a bad thing. Just something that hit me on Monday, when I was so knackered from the drink and the craic on the weekend that the kitchen made me ache for a fry...


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