Language? Who’d Believe It?

Moving to another country can be stressful, particularly if it means learning a new language. When I moved to America back in 2002, I didn’t expect to have that problem. Ha! I should have known better. Brits and Americans do speak a different language? I’ll give you two examples, both absolutely truthful, that happened to me while in America.

After twelve months living in my wife’s apartment I decided we needed to buy a house. I’m not an apartment person. I am into hi-fi, so I like realistic sound levels, and okay I’m happy at a level that prevents me hearing folk above and below me bashing on their ceiling or floors with a broom handle, but they’re not. So, hey, let’s get ourselves a well detached house, girl.

So we bought a house, much to the delight of the other apartment dwellers who waved us off with much whooping and yelling. I felt like complaining about the noise they were making, but thought better of it!

The house was okay once I’d ripped out a fire surround that extended floor to ceiling and looked like it could have been designed by the same architect the ancient druids employed to design Stonehenge, or maybe the tomb of Tutankhamun, and I’d beaten to death all those gross jumping spiders **in the garage; figured out why every time I turned the volume up on the hi-fi the lights fused, and eventually fixed the plumbing.

Not that there was anything wrong with the plumbing when we moved in. Two weeks later the crack in the hot water cylinder decided to flood the garage after the sticky goo stuff the previous owner had stuck in it to sell the property gave way and five hundred gallons of hot water decided to do an impression of Niagara Falls, cascading down the kitchen steps and all over the garage floor. On the plus side, it did drown the remaining jumping spiders, or maybe it just cooked them.

Installing a new cylinder was a relatively simple job once I’d bribed the delivery guy to help unpack it and haul it up the steps and into place. We managed it without damaging the cylinder, though the delivery guy did get his foot stuck under it at one point. He was okay, apart from a bit of a limp as he walked out the garage and into his van. Still, I’d given him twenty dollars so that should have helped pay the hospital bill.

It was the connecting up that caused me the headache. I got it all done apart from one joint which was missing one of those little copper rings that go on the end of a water pipe and seal it to the compression joint as you tighten it. That meant a trip to Walmart in the vain hope they might sell one. Yes, I know, I could have gone to Menards or Lowes, the proper D-I-Y shops, both opposite each other just up the road from Walmart, but I was new to the vagaries of the United States and still under the misapprehension that Walmart sold everything – which they do except for the one thing you’re looking for.

Okay, it’s at this point the fact we Brits speak a different language to the locals becomes relevant. I couldn’t find the thing I was looking for so I approached a Walmart ‘Associate’, known in the UK as an, ’employee’. That’s not a language difference, it’s just John Boy Walton trying to make his stores sound posh.

In English, the little copper ring is called an ‘olive’. Both I and the ‘Associate’ were in Walmart’s pathetic plumbing department, which consisted of about ten feet of crap that could only ever loosely be described as having anything to do with plumbing, so I blithely assumed she most know something relative to the subject, and said, “Excuse me, but do you have any three-quarter inch olives?”

I’ll leave you to guess the rest. Needless to say, the vegetable and canned goods departments did not have what I was looking for. In English – ‘olives’; in American – ‘ferrules’, as I eventually learned from a helpful gentleman in Lowes.

Two years later, after writing two books I became bored and sought employment. I rather fancied driving one of those big yellow school buses one sees everywhere on American films and TV shows. I’d driven big double-decker buses when I was younger so the yellow bean cans didn’t pose a problem and I was soon running on a regular route – bus number 13. Ha! It was probably their idea of a joke on the English guy. Unlucky for some? It was the worst route in the garage. Nobody else would drive it.

It took me a while but I did eventually tame the little critters who rode it. Why is there no discipline in schools any more? All this, “Poor little boy, he only broke the window and smashed up the assembly hall because he needs love.” Little  *****s! It’s not love they need it’s a good dose of the rattan cane. And these were grade school kids!

One afternoon after school, they little thugs were so rowdy and badly behaved, I turned the bus around, called the garage on the radio and told them to inform the school I was bringing their kids back. I hauled them all off the bus, lined them up against the school wall and proceeded to march up and down the line like some irate sergeant major, telling them exactly what I thought of them. Meanwhile, half a dozen teachers had congregated and were listening to what was going on.

Finally, I ended, “Right! You will now form a single file. You will enter the bus in a disciplined manner. You will take your assigned seats and sit quietly, AND if I hear one squeak out of any one of you that child will never ride on my bus again. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!”

“Murmur, murmur, murmur…”

“I DIDN’T HEAR YOU. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!”

“Yes, Mister Bob,” came the sullen chorus. (They all called me ‘Mister Bob’).

And so thirty-odd shell-shocked kids entered the bus and sat quiet as mice, as one of the women teachers moved up close to me and said quietly, (I think so the head teacher didn’t hear) “Nobody’s ever spoken to them like that before. They damn well needed it. I’m so proud of you, Mister Bob.” And she turned and walked quickly away as though she’d spoken forbidden words.

I turned to the Head Teacher, whom I got on with very well, and said, “Right, Mrs. Richmond, I’ll be off then. I don’t think I’ll need to come back again.” She gave what I can only describe as a wry smile, and said, “No, I don’t think you will, Mister Bob.”

And I never did.

Prior to that I had my language problem. The kids always found me a bit weird. Well, for a start I was English, so they were never quite sure what to make of me. That could have caused me grief, when on one occasion, as I was dropping off about six kids at the same stop, I shouted to them as they alighted, “Mind how you go and make sure you stay on the pavement!” It took me a while to realize why they’d given me such funny looks, as they walked away – on the SIDEWALK!

In English – ‘pavement = ‘sidewalk’; In American – ‘pavement’ = ‘ROAD’.

I grew to love those kids. Some of them were with me throughout their whole grade school experience. I only intended to drive for six months, and ended up staying six years, all on bus 13.

Language, eh! Who’d have thought it. Let’s go to America, they speak English there! The hell they do!

** Warning: don’t open this link if spiders give you nightmares!

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