By Pamela Denholm
For our newsletter this week in considering a topic, my mind flew to the continuing and unrelenting drought (our drought status has been upgraded, and I know of at least five farm wells that have run dry – it’s terrible). Of course, there is also the craziness that is going on with GMO labeling. All the food recalls that have been skirting the news absolutely deserve a platform too. But between the serious state of our food system, and the fiasco that is election season, I thought something a little more light-hearted might be the order of the day. Let’s smile at my expense, or laugh out loud – even better.
When I first decided to move to the USA (I was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa), the most common response from friends and family was: well, at least you are moving to a country that speaks English, so you won’t have the language barrier. Ha! Really? The first time I shared a traffic story in a bar, describing a moment wherein I was so frustrated I ‘pressed my hooter’ (not blew my horn) at someone, I brought the house down! When you think about it, blowing your horn really does sound a little more risque, but my slip provided my soused (tipsy) companions much entertainment for the rest of the evening. It was pretty funny. Or, tell your boss that your colleague ‘works like a Trojan’ (instead of just calling him hard working) and you will quickly be corrected, learning about the brand name of a certain birth control option in the process. (“Pam, you can’t go around saying things like that! And I thought you were telling me he was not 100% effective.”)
The same is true in reverse, buns are what you put hamburgers on, but where I come from, buns are colloquial for your bottom, i.e. what you sit on. So imagine my horror when somebody asked me to hand over my buns at a barbecue (okay, he was cute, and I actually thought about it except my husband was watching). (Just kidding.) We call cookie’s biscuits, because the word ‘cookie’ is colloquial for a part of the female anatomy that is private – I blushed six shades of crimson the first time somebody offered me a free choice of cookies.
Those were a few of my more embarrassing slips – there have been many blush-worthy moments as I navigated my new same-language home, and some moments where all I created was downright confusion. Fries are only chips if they are ordered with fish (or in a foreign country), mince is actually ground beef so don’t ask for it any other way, and a trolley is actually a shopping cart.
When I started South Shore Organics, I caught myself a few times slipping up. I once called an eggplant an aubergine – come to find most of our customers took it out of their baskets because they had no idea what it was. Zucchini became baby marrow through distraction (which elicited some concerned responses from our vegetarian customers, and really, who can blame them?) Avocados are avocado pears where I am from, arugula is rocket, cilantro is coriander, scallions are spring onions, beets are beetroots, and rutabagas are (what?!?) swedes (from Swedish turnip) – the first time a farmer had this on the availability list, I had to ask him to send me a sample.
I googled a lot, and relied on the good humor and patience of the people around me. My staff tease me mercilessly, and still frequently call bananas, bah-nah-nahs. Now, for the most part, I can speak American fluently, and even make myself understood at the Starbucks drive-through (but I only go to the one where they know me, otherwise I have to go inside to order), and it is my family back home who now sound funny when they talk.