📖 Translating English to … English?

April 9th 2013 was an incredibly long day. It wasn’t one of those “let’s add a leap second” kinda days and I’m being hyperbolic; it genuinely was a long day. 32 hours long in fact. It was the day I moved myself, my belongings, my everything from the UK 🇬🇧 to my new home, Canada 🇨🇦. (the UK is 8 hours ahead of Vancouver BC, so I gained an extra 8 hours on my Tuesday)

Once I’d arrived at the airbnb which I would call my home for 5 days, it became apparent fairly quickly that I needed to eat. I was tired, jet-lagged, kinda buzzing from the fact that I’d just emigrated, physically exhausted, and mentally drained. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to cook myself something gastronomically taxing. Which, if you know me at all, means Rich is getting a pizza.

I’d considered ordering a pizza online – I couldn’t ring for one because I didn’t have a local phone yet – but had absolutely no idea whether the local custom was to tip the delivery driver or not. I didn’t want to deal with that awkwardness. I’m so English. Neither did I know how the buzzer system worked in the apartment, and didn’t have enough brain cells left to work it out.

So this meant I needed to take a trip to the supermarket. Fortunately, I was a 5 minute walk from Save On Foods. I’ll be in and out in no time, I thought. Throw the pizza in the oven, chill out in front of the TV, stay up as late as I can and beat this jet lag, then sleep like a king. What could possibly go wrong?

A series of unfortunate events mistakes

I don’t know about you, but I find having just one foodstuff for an entire meal slightly strange. I wouldn’t have just fish for dinner. I’d have fish and chips, for example. Again, I’m very English. It’s the same with pizza. I find that pizza goes particularly well with coleslaw. Coleslaw was perfect; literally nothing to do but open the bag and throw it on my plate. Coleslaw was my first mistake.

Coleslaw, in the UK at least, is something you buy fully prepared in a bag. When I say ‘fully prepared’ I mean it’s already drowning in a mayonnaise dressing when you open it. Turns out, that’s not how it works in Canada. The coleslaw is just the dry, shredded veg. After spending a full 10 minutes bumbling around Save On trying to find what I recognized as Coleslaw, I gave up. The idea of actually making coleslaw by, y’know, adding mayo to the veg, never occurred to me. Jet lag is a weird thing. A one-foodstuff meal it is, then.

The pizza selection wasn’t brilliant, but it didn’t really matter. It was going to be hot and pizza-y and require absolutely no effort on my part. I think I chose a meat-feast. I’m very basic.

The good news though, as I ambled up and down every aisle looking for coleslaw, was that I came across a 6-pack of Becks. That was to go straight into the fridge when I got home and I’d have a nice cold beer with my dinner. Things were looking up!

Back in the apartment I hurriedly put the beer in the fridge, even tossed one in the freezer to expedite the process, de-packaged the pizza, opened the oven, put it on a tray, closed the oven door and… stared at the electronic controls. For at least a minute. I then proceeded to google “How do I just use an oven in Canada?” (that’s genuinely what I googled). That was a poor piece of googling on my part. The controls gave me three options “Bake”, “Broil”, and “Roast”. 

Here’s how my brain worked through these options: A broiler is a chicken. So that’s not how you cook pizza. You roast a chicken on a Sunday. So that’s not what I want, either, in fact at this point I was starting to wonder if all Canadians do with ovens was cook chicken. Therefore, I want… bake? But I’m not making a cake. So that can’t be right.

Next up in the ‘Rich isn’t very good at googling’ game was “Do I broil, bake, or roast a pizza?”. At least I left out the ‘in Canada’ this time, I guess. Still none-the-wiser, I took a gamble. I pressed the broiler button and waited to see what happened. Well…if you’re accustomed to North American ovens (as I am now, 7 years later), you’ll know exactly what happened. And you’ll also see now why I don’t gamble. Y’see, a broiler is what us Brits would call the grill. I grilled the pizza. Broiling my pizza was my second mistake.

Fortunately, I hadn’t burned the pizza. (hoorah!) Yet. (Oh) But the top was decidedly crispy, and the rest was decidedly … not cooked in the slightest.

Right, so, a broiler is a grill. Lesson learned. Bake it is, then. I moved the pizza to the bottom of the oven, pressed the bake button, set the temperature (now it makes sense!) and off it went.

Definitely time for a beer 🍺.

Open the freezer, extract chilly bottle, search in vain for a bottle opener, use another bottle to open the one I want to open, thank lucky stars I learned that trick some years back, and take a big swig.

The problem wasn’t so much that it wasn’t cold enough. It wasn’t cold 🥶, but it was definitely drinkable. No, the problem was… something else.

Now, I’ve had plenty of bottles of Becks in my time. For a while it was my go-to afterwork beer. I know what a Becks tastes like. And this wasn’t it.

Surely Becks is Becks? Regardless of where you are in the world?

A glance at the bottle. Same green bottle that I’m used to. Same shape. Same size (annoyingly small). Same logo on the label. Same “non-alcoholic” text undernea– GOD DAMN IT.

Not remembering you couldn’t buy alcohol in a grocery store was my 3rd mistake. Or my zeroth mistake, I guess.

Eventually the pizza was finished in the oven – massively overcooked on the top, but it was warm and, well, edible. It was inhaled.


At the time I didn’t realize what had happened. There were so many assumptions being made from all sides. Folks who design ovens expect everyone to know how they work. Especially in a country such as Canada with a massive amount of immigrants, this simply isn’t the case. I’d assumed I’d simply be able to translate my pre-existing knowledge into… Canadian. It must be the same, right? There’s no language barrier.

♨️ Apart from the broiler.

🛣 And the pavement is the road surface that cars go on, rather than the thing on the side of the road that pedestrians go on.

🥾 And a boot is something you put on your feet, not something at the back of a car.

🍪 And biscuits and gravy is actually a thing and not some weird 2:30am drunken experiment with whatever is left in the fridge that’s gone horribly wrong.

🝅 And aluminium is aluminum. Which is the same thing.

🍺 A pint isn’t actually a 20 Oz glass of beer. It’s a seemingly random amount of beer depending on which bar you’re at, served in a glass that may or may not be able to carry 20 Oz of liquid.

🍑 Try not to make assumptions. Even if you think you know your audience – “they’ll definitely understand this”. Even if you think it’s something that doesn’t need explaining. Even if you think you absolutely know how to do something. Even if — especially if — it’s “obvious”.

7 years on and I still don’t know why it’s called a broiler.