June 29, 2011

Language is a funny thing....

I used to move around a lot as a kid and one of the side effects, at least for me, is that I had intuitively become more aware of American use of language.  Differences, sometimes very subtle, were  somewhat clearer for me than they were for others.  I recall one time on a school trip to Washington DC having to do the simplest of translations for one of my fellow students (one that had never been far from Iowa).  We were at McDonalds and she wanted to order a drink, but the person working the register had no clue was a "pop" was.

Of course since she wanted a Coke, she could of asked for a Coke, but since Coke was really the only option it didn't occur to her that she could have asked for the product by it's brand name.  To her, all soft drinks were "pop".  Had she wanted a Diet Coke, I'm sure she would have asked for a "Diet Pop" or just a "Diet".

Of course asking for a "Diet" while at a 1980's McDonalds she would have been looked at funny for other reasons.

Smarter people than me have looked into the Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke issue.

A side effect of my travels and the little bit of language skills I've learned is that I've been able to pick up bits of language whether I want to or not. I wish this made me good at actually learning foreign languages, but I'm not sure.  I tend to mix up everything in my head.  If asking "Where is the bathroom" in Germany I'd be more likely to say "Wo is der quatro de bano".  I can however, sometimes pick up general messages without knowing what is actually said.

On a TDY to Turkey one of our Turkish counterparts was celebrating his birthday.  We took him to their version of the NCO club and ordered a round of Raki as shots.  I went with him to the bar to make the order and he said something to the bartender, confident that I knew little more than how to say "Please, Thank You, One/Two/Four Beers, and Where is the bathroom?"  He was right.  When he asked the bartender to pour us all shots of Raki, but to pour himself a shot of water, I was able to pick up on it right away and call him out.  Our Turkish friends were careful about speaking in front of me since they all of a sudden assumed I was much more fluent than I was letting on.

I also have the habit of picking up verbal mannerisms of those people around me.  Some stick and some do not.  I picked up some Dutch swears I still use to this day and I found myself using language from my family I really haven't lived with for over 20 years.

My father's family is from SE Iowa, up from Northern Missouri.  My grandmother refers to the three daily meals as "Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper."  I cannot do the accent justice, so I won't even try to phonetically type it out.  I've pretty much been raised with "Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner."  This difference has caused problems in the past, like when visiting my folks and Grandma invites me over to Dinner and I show up around 6 PM only to be told Dinner was over 6 hours ago.

Today I was making lunch for the Mrs. and when she asked when it would be ready I didn't think, simply replying, "Dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes".


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