East Coast - West Coast
Language Differences in the U.S.A

An illustration of American east-coast and west-coast language differences resulting in significant miscommunication and misunderstanding.

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This is a true story. I invited a friend from Oregon to spend the summer in Boston. It didn't take very long to discover important differences in language and behavior between the two coasts. He encountered many of the more famous differences which New England is known for, right away of course. For example, soft drinks are called "tonics". Water fountains are "bubblers". Milk shakes made with ice cream are called "frappes". If you mistakenly order just a "milk shake" you get exactly that, a milk drink mixed with syrup and no ice cream. However, he got himself into trouble when his West coast terminology collided with East coast lingo.

My friend headed to the local Dunkin Donuts for a "regular" cup of coffee and some donuts. He got upset with the waitress when he saw her add milk and sugar. At first, he tried a mild correction. "I asked for 'regular'" he said. What he didn't know was that although in Oregon a "regular" is a straight black coffee with no milk or sugar, in New England "regular" meant served with both. So she replies "Yes, That's what I am giving you." He says "No, your not!". And so the exchange gets a little heated, but somehow ends up clarified and resolved. Having run into some other miscommunications already, my friend is comfortable that this is an innocent misunderstanding. The waitress is not so sure, as this was a bit out of the ordinary for her.

The waitress asks my friend how he would like to carry his order. The choice she refers to is to either wedge the coffee cup into a cardboard tray with holes for cups or carry it out inside a paper bag.

Waitress: "How would you like it?"
"In the sack!"
replies my friend in his very best Oregonian and with a broad, innocent smile.
Her demeanor changes and she starts to sputter. She thinks he is being very fresh now. She was skeptical of his problem with "regular" and this is the last straw. Her right hand curls into a fist as she rears her shoulder backward. My friend can see the energy building and shouts for her to wait. He tries to calm her down.

In Oregon, a paper carrying bag is called a "sack". His remark was innocent and sincere. That term is never used in the East. Instead a "sack", especially "in the sack" is a euphemism for "bed". She thought he was asking for the coffee to be delivered to him in bed, which of course also has sexual overtones.

You don't need to leave the country to discover language differences causing misunderstandings.

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