My mother tongue is Indian
Many of you who have come to the US have had this problem – using Indian (s)language that means something ENTIRELY different in the US. Or pronounced words in a way that is incomprehensible by Americans. Or things that sound exotic but are something really mundane. I am listing out some that I experienced myself.
1. Passed out is not ‘graduated’
No, it is not. You pass out when you’ve drunk so much alcohol that no more blood reaches your brain. So when you say you passed out in 2006, people are thinking deeply. And wondering how flippantly you used the term, and they also wonder why Indians date their “passing out” in years. So this was the conversation that happened with my adviser (American):
Adviser: You could probably look up ____’s paper – he did some work on that.
Me: Oh ____ – that guy who passed out in 2003?
Adviser: (Long pause)
Me: Wasn’t ____ your student… he passed out of your group in 2003, right? Or was it 2004?
Adviser: He passed out? How did you know… one morning I did walk into the office and found him sleeping on the floor, I thought he was passed out… he just spent the night in the office… but how do you know about that…
Me: [Blink]…[Blink] I meant if he graduated in 2003, but now I know never to use PASS OUT instead of “graduate”…
2. Lettuce needs to be pronounced right
Or they just don’t get it. If you don’t pronounce it right, they stare at you like they’ve never heard anything even remotely close!
Me: Could you I have ‘lett-yus’ on my sandwich please?
Subway girl: Excuse me?
Me: ‘Lett-yus’, ‘lett-yus’ (I guessed she didn’t hear me)
Subway girl: (embarrassed laugh) Ha ha – I am sorry, I don’t get you…
Me now pointing at the lettuce
Subway girl: Oh you mean the ‘lett(i)s’!
Come on! How far is let-yus from lett(i)s?
3. There is no such thing as capsicum
It’s such a delectable vegetable and it goes by the name “green pepper” here. Why? Because people here find it spicy. So you have black pepper (same), red pepper (red chili), green pepper (capsicum), bell pepper (red or yellow capsicum). All of which make food spicy. They’ve got a point, so I don’t blame them. But still, it doesn’t feel quite right.
4. Eggplant is not an exotic vegetable
The first time we were hosting a party, a friend told me that he will make eggplant roast – and he told me to pick one up from the grocery store. Now I had heard a lot about eggplant, and the name sounds somewhat exotic – but I felt really disappointed when I realized it was only a BRINJAL. Sigh.
5. Use “figure out”, not “make out”
Another friend of mine also suffered an embarrassment because of the usage of this seemingly harmless phrase. Here’s my conversation:
Attempting to solve a tough assignment
Me: Damn… whatever the trick is, I just cannot make out!
American friend: Er… make out?
<silence for a while>
Me: I meant figure out…
6. Boot of the car, not dicky of the car.
This experience was more hilarious because my friend heard something totally different. When I explained that the trunk of the car is also called “dicky” in India, he said it is better to use the word “boot” or “trunk” here.