I've always thought I've had English down pat since I've been reading in English since I was little, and have been writing articles in English professionally for about 20 years now. My TOEFL scores which I received last Saturday showed that I scored high in reading, writing, listening and speaking.
So it baffles me that I sometimes encounter communication problems here in LA.
As I was washing the dishes one time, my 17-year-old nephew said, "Hello." And I replied, "Oh hi, Johnny!" But then he looked at me quizzically and again said, "Hello." Then he shaked the popcorn bag in his hand. Only then did I realize that he said, "How long" instead of "Hello." So I said, "Two and a half minutes." Then he popped the bag in the microwave and disappeared after it was done.
There was also the time when the vet clinic called and left a message for my sister about her Sharpei puppy named Sasha. "Please tell her the tickle test is negative." The tickle test? Sasha was tickled to test her for what? I asked the girl, "Um, what's that again?" "The tickle test." "Uh, can you please spell that out for me?" "Ok it's f-e-c-a-l o-c-c-u-l-t..." "Oh yeah ok, I get it." So what I thought was a tickle test was really a fecal occult stool test.
Just a week ago, my 19-year-old nephew Patrick rattled off a lot of words in English, complaining about something and speaking a mile a minute, like he used to when he was little. I thought he said, among other things, that the Mark II is not working. And so I said, "Oh that's ok, we can take the Cadillac." And he said, "No I said the microwave is not working." Oh dear. Is it just me or has English changed? It's like words just roll off Americans' tongues differently.
But it's not just the accent that's the problem. Sometimes it's the terms they use too.
I went to a small pharmacy last month. I was looking for sanitary napkins but couldn't find them. And so I asked the cashier, "Hi. Do you have sanitary napkins?" She frowned, then said, "We have tissues." "No I need sanitary napkins." "What are they for?" "For one's period." "OH, YOU MEAN TAMPONS!" (yeah right. Now everyone in the pharmacy knows I need them or something like them.) "Well, not quite. I need something like this (I drew sanitary napkins in the air)." "OH, PADS! Yes, we have them right here."
My friend Malou in New Jersey has this American English down pat. She told me her husband is a "mortgage beynker." I'll surely remember her whenever I have to ask for directions to the nearest beynk. And I should remind myself that my name here is Keren not Karen so the barista at Starbucks won't have to ask me to spell my name.
BOOK OF THE WEEK: Book 3 now of the Countdown to the Rapture series. It's The Rapture. Exciting! Have you ever wondered what this is about? The Bible says believers will one day meet the Lord in the air in the twinkling of an eye. E-mail me for more info.
VERSE OF THE WEEK: He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Psalm 95:7