A. A. Gill writes this story on making a cross cultural glitch:
“This is a true story. A friend of mine, an English girl, moved to New York and, soon after arriving, romantically acquired a local boyfriend. Shortly after that they were both invited to a party. It would be, she was told, fancy-dress. Fancy-dress parties, unlike emotional openness, child care, and pedicures, are one of those inconsequential and nebulous little things that the English take with an infinite, furrowed-browed, death-or-glory seriousness. After many sleepless hours, my friend decided on witty outfits for herself and the boyfriend. After days of construction, they turned up resplendent and a little sweaty as a pair of tomatoes. She had coutured a Gershwin lyric. She was a tomato, he a tomato. (This doesn't really work in print.) It was a tongue-in-taffeta pun. The English simply adore little puns. They were shown into the grand residence and waddled into a room full of Americans wearing black-tie, cocktail frocks, and diamonds. My friend had misunderstood. "Fancy-dress" had meant dress fancy. For any Englishman reading this, stitching a Robin Hood outfit, the American for "fancy-dress" is "costume party." What did you do? I asked my friend. "I laughed and got drunk." That was very British of you. What did the boyfriend do? "He had a bit of a sense-of-humor failure. But we're still friends."
For the sauce of this article and for reading further see:
A.A. Gill, Brits Behaving Badly, Vanity Fair, April 2007.
Image: Tomato fancy dress/costume.