Chesterfields: to sit or to smoke?

A typical Canadian family enjoying a hot summer day.

A typical Canadian family enjoying a hot summer day.

Many things influenced my choice of career.  There were my anxious parents and my best friends, my tendency to doodle in homeroom and the teacher that encouraged me to keep doodling, But the biggest influence on my career was something a bit loonier. Blame Canada – it made me a UXA.

I am a Canadian American. Yes, it is a real thing. I was raised by Canadians who moved to a small, Midwestern American town where we spent most of our time. But my summers and vacations were spent with my family in Canada. Like Persephone, I felt I was l living a double life, with the small, Midwestern American town playing the part of the underworld. This was because the town was populated with small, Midwestern American children, who made me miserable most of the time.

My parents spoke Canadian English – yes, it is a real thing – so that’s what I spoke too. And children, when they’re not composing adorable commentaries about kittens for the Internet, can sometimes be horrible, mean-spirited little shits.  My new school chums wasted no time telling me I was an idiot, a moron, a retard, a dummy, and a loser because I, “talked stupid”.

There were so many words for me to re-learn. Why were the Rockets in my Halloween bag called Smarties, and why were the Smarties called M&M’s? Why was Canadian cheese called American cheese? How on earth would you smoke a chesterfield?  This matronly, brown woman, the one you call, “Mrs. Butterworth”, why do you refer to the substance that oozes out of her as “maple syrup?”

As if the harassment from the children wasn’t enough, I received plenty more from my grade school teachers who constantly gave me angry lectures and poor grades for misspelling words like labour, honour, colour, theatre, and cheque. And because my parents spoke and wrote this way, my friends concluded that they must also be stupid, so It didn’t help either one of us when my mother frequently ordered me to, “put on rubbers and run the corner for some homo” in front of my new “pals.”

Technology comes to us with its own language, and everyone in our field understands it, but the majority of our customers do not. What seems obvious to someone in our field might confuse a potential customer. Here are some examples of messages you may find confusing.

  • “Miscellaneous”
  • “We get our serviettes and bags of homo at the Loblaws.”
  • “Warning: session_regenerate_id() [function.session-regenerate-id]: Cannot regenerate session id – headers already sent in/home/ttssvint/public_html/includes/functions/sessions.php on line 162”
  • “You spilled Schooner on the chesterfield? Mop it up with this flannel.”
  • “FieldT12empty”.
  • “If the expiry date has gone, chuck it in the garburator.”
  • “PC Load Letter”

I didn’t mind learning how to speak American English, but I would have appreciated a little help and understanding along the way. Consumers, as well as Canadians, shouldn’t be made to feel stupid because they don’t know the lingo. If a consumer is confronted with a confusing label, term, or message, he may feel stupid, embarrassed or inadequate. It’s likely, he’ll move to another website that speaks his language. And please don’t give a customer error messages that tell him he did something wrong. It’s not nice to rub his nose in it. Instead, guide him through the process of how to get it right. Or better yet, design a process he can’t get wrong.  You’ll have a customer – and maybe a friend – for life.

Translations, Canadian to American:

  • Serviettes = napkins
  • Bags of homo = milk sold in plastic bags
  • Loblaws = a Canadian supermarket
  • Chesterfield = a couch or sofa
  • Expiry date = expiration date on perishable products
  • Garburator = garbage disposal unit
  • Rubbers = rain boots
  • Rockets = fruit-flavoured tablet candies wrapped in cellophane, or Smarties
  • Smarties = colour-varied candy-coated chocolate oblate spheroids, or M&M’s
  • Canadian cheese = American cheese. Yes, I’m serious.
  • Schooner = Lager beer brewed in Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Flannel = washcloth
  • Chuck = toss


4 Responses to “Chesterfields: to sit or to smoke?”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    May 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    such a common problem. you would think we would have a solve for this. how many work sessions still start out with people establishing a common language? we call it a wire, you call it a mock ….

  2. bethany lankin →
    May 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    Yes, bringing the problem in house, it often seems that no one can decide on the same term and no one wants to re-learn a new one if their term isn’t chosen.

    Instead of having everyone agree to call it a “wire”, for example, everyone has to remember that Tom calls it a mock, Jeff calls it a rough, Mary calls it an initial sketch, etc. I think that’s why I’m so obsessed with naming. My brain has atrophied and I can’t remember more than three things at a time anymore and I don’t want to look stupid.

  3. Phil Jones →
    May 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    thats what the Red Green show is all aboot eh? “Cuz if you cant fix it with duct tape it cant be fixed!” that and understanding how Canadians think…

    and its no mock, nor draft nor comp… its a deck.

  4. Martin Kelly
    March 17, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    I feel your pain. I knew you when you lived in your small, Midwestern American town. I lived a few towns east of you then.
    And now I am the one living in a small Canadian town in British Columbia. I’ve lived in Canada since 2008 and I still am not proficient in temperature conversions. My iPhone displays them to me in ‘F’ rather than ‘C.
    I still have to pause before I say the word ‘zed.’ Thank goodness the last letter of the alphabet is spelled the same was as I spelled it in the US and not as ‘ZU.’