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.My mother tongue is Indian

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. πŸ˜‰ 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.

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Filed under Grad life, India oh India


45 Responses to “My mother tongue is Indian”
  1. Siddharth says:

    Beautiful examples… I loved the conversation bit within quotes… Very innovative…

  2. Kokonad says:

    Thanks Sid! πŸ™‚

  3. Deepika says:

    How, how, how I love this post! πŸ™‚ I was laughing THROUGHOUT, because Ive been through similar harrowing experiences. They pronounce “mayonnaise” differently too, fyi.And “make out”… still happens to me ALL.THE.TIME. “How do you make out if the different bond angles affect the…” gets me the weirdest looks. πŸ™‚

    Oh and have you had eggplant parmesan? I knew what eggplant was, but the thought of a parmesan out of it made me squirm, but as it turned out, it was really yummy. So it isn’t that un-exotic like we “make it out” to be.

  4. Shazia says:

    Really funny post Kokonad. Loved it. You know, till a few years back I would have been caught in several embaressing situations because of ignorance of more than one points you mentioned. I had no idea of the meaning of the term ‘make-out’ till very recently. When somebody mentioned that so and so were making out, I really thought they were making something, so whats the big deal… πŸ™‚

  5. Sau says:

    Nice one, Koke!

  6. Kokonad says:

    Thank you! Yes, the make out thing is pretty funny – and they always cause really embarrassing situations! πŸ˜€
    And yeah, eggplant parmesan is awesome! I am so allergic to eggplant but I love eating it so much that I eat it any way!
    PS: I loved how to quoted “make it out”… πŸ˜€

    Thanks Shazia! Heh heh! I have a love-hate relationship with euphemisms. You love it when you know it, and hate it when you realize it later!

    Saurabh ji! Thank you!

  7. “So you have black pepper (same), red pepper (red chili), green pepper (capsicum), bell pepper (red or yellow capsicum)”

    And not to forget, they also have red hot chili peppers

  8. Kokonad says:

    @Aditya Sengupta
    Heh heh… it would have been funny if I had blended it smoothly with all the other peppers…!

  9. bhumika says:

    Hilarious post Konkonad! i can well do one on the gujaratis who ask you to have ‘snakes’ and ‘rape’ the doll πŸ˜‰

  10. Kokonad says:

    Heh heh… πŸ™‚ I am glad you liked it, Bhumika!

  11. I always make it a point to tell my friends that pass out means ‘behosh ho jaana’ and that the right word is graduate. But I guess the usage was coined by an Indian engineer as a subtle reference to the fact that you are very likely to pass out from the effort by the time you graduate from engg school.

    Ditto for ‘make out’. They want to say ‘figure out’ or ‘tell apart’.

  12. Kokonad says:

    @Julia Scissor
    Thank you *Aldebaran*, for dropping by my blog and commenting on it too!
    Ha ha! Now that you mention it, it is VERY LIKELY your theory of the origins of “passing out” is accurate!
    πŸ™‚ I have a few friends who insist on ‘cutting tickets’ and not ‘booking them’ (literal translation from Bengali/Hindi).

  13. Kadambari says:

    Lol! Good one! I have heard a number of people running a direct translation from their local language! And, it’s hilarious!

  14. Kokonad says:

    Thank you Kadambari, for dropping by and commenting too! πŸ™‚
    Something that always cracks me up is when people add “no” at the end of a sentence… It’s SO Indian, no?

  15. Sayontan says:

    I used to think that the “no” at the tail-end was Indian, till I heard a large number of Europeans use it. One very famous person who does it is Rafael Nadal.

  16. Kokonad says:

    Oh! Now that you mention it, you are right – Europeans use it too! πŸ˜€

  17. Rads says:

    That was hilarious. This kinda stuff keeps happening. Once I was at Kohl’s and was registering for a charge card and since I’m new to US, I forgot that Firstname and Lastname are same as Surname and Name in India. So I said my first name is —- and my second name is —-. She was staring at me as if to say “You have two names?” It was soo embarrasing and now when I come to think of it I totally crack up.

    • Kokonad says:

      Rads: Heh heh! But guess what, I myself often confuse the listener by using the word “surname”!
      The other thing is when they say “go down there”, it never actually means “downstairs” – it just means “down the hallway”. How or why is it different from “go up there”? Baffles me. 😐
      Aside, welcome to my blog! And thank you for commenting too!

  18. Archana says:

    Hahah this entry was awesome. It’s kind of funny, because even though I am Indian I’v never lived in India, and I grew up here and there in this world. And depending on what culture you’re most influenced by, you do end up taking a lot of what you say for granted. For instance, all my school years since kindergarten through till college was in American/International institutions…so to me, I’ve never heard the term pass out for graduate. Haha, well you learn something new every day. πŸ™‚

    Though I do remember in college, one of my friends had just arrived from Bombay and he would have all these adorable moments where I’d be like, pssst Varun, you don’t use that term here for this or that…like the overused joke of switching to using the word ‘eraser’ instead of ‘rubber’ in the US. Gotta love cultural mis-communication humor. πŸ™‚

  19. Kokonad says:

    First of all, I am already envious because you grew up “here and there”. Sigh. I have this whole post coming up on traveling around the world – and how terribly I wish I were doing that!
    And ah, the rubber/eraser thing! πŸ™‚ Yes, you indeed gotta love cultural mis-communication humor. Keep visiting Archana! And you’ve got another subscriber to your blog too!

  20. iswarya says:

    Ha ha ha.. Hilarious!! The make-out part was especially so typical, and happens often to people around me too!! πŸ™‚

  21. Kokonad says:

    Hi Iswarya, welcome to my blog! I love the way your name is spelt!

  22. Archana says:

    Hey for some reason I had overlooked the reply, my bad! And growing up here and there has its perks, but it also has its moments where you end up feeling terribly confused as to what exactly makes up who you are. Lol, the whole balancing act between belonging & being ‘foreign’..a toughie, but I love it nonetheless. πŸ™‚

    I’m looking forward to your post on traveling around the world – if I had an endless bank account, all I would ideally want to do is travel. It’s bliss.

  23. Kokonad says:

    Oh yeah, I completely understand that. Changing schools in teen years is pretty tough!
    Ahh, money. And time! *Deep sigh* I wish I could do a “Where the hell is Matt” thing too…! I really envy him for all the places he has been to!
    And I also wish I could write more frequently – I have a bunch of ideas waiting to be written/drawn, but I am currently in the middle of a two-week stint of 24-7 experiments. There should be more hours per day before deadlines and during vacations. What do you think?

  24. Archana says:

    If hours were extended as per what you mentioned, then we would reach utopia. πŸ™‚ It is crazy to think how when we are on vacation time really does fly.

    And I know what you mean about having a bunch of thoughts bouncing around in your head about what to blog about next. I get the same thing with the vectors, out of no where something will trigger an idea in my head about who/which picture/etc to vector next. I’m going to have to keep those ideas on pause at the moment though, because I’m actually going on vacation for a couple of weeks. πŸ™‚ But when I’m back, I can only imagine all the ideas that would have flooded my mind by then. Eeks. Going to have to note them down in my trusty Ipod.

  25. Kokonad says:

    Oooh vacation! Where, if I may ask? Aaah, never mind. I am already envious. πŸ˜›

  26. Reva says:

    and “Unbelievable” It really is not always a compliment when you say Unbelieveable!! y o y o y do people take it as a compliment!!! πŸ˜€

  27. Kokonad says:

    Ha ha! I think people confuse it by drawing an analogy to the reason why “free” and “priceless” are not the same. πŸ™‚

  28. RukmaniRam says:

    *generous dose of laughter*

    I was once witness to a conversation between a desi ddue new to the US and his american classmate.. he’s telling her “can you not make out?” πŸ˜€

  29. Kokonad says:

    Ha ha ha! I can only imagine what *she* was thinking!

  30. Ashwathy says:

    hahaha!! had some similar moments while i was in UK πŸ™‚ so i totally understand! u have my sympathies lol

    • Kokonad says:

      You must share them! And I LOVE the British accent! I would get completely enamored by an old lady if she was speaking to me in that accent. Not so much if a guy was doing it, though. In that case we would just be good friends. πŸ˜€

  31. Middler says:

    Haha… nice examples! Lost in translation eh!

    But seriously, thanks on the lett(i)s!

    MiddlerΒ΄s latest blog post – An Overview of Financial Markets

  32. Kokonad says:

    Thanks Middler! πŸ™‚ Keep coming, macha! πŸ˜€

  33. $oumy@ says:

    Hey, what about aubergine (for brinjal) πŸ™‚
    Here, in the UK, I went to a self-check out at a supermarket and kept looking at the alphabetical list of things for ages…until i realised it had to be aubergine…lol!

  34. Kokonad says:

    Aubergine? Seriously! Ha ha ha ha! Aubergine sounds way too sophisticated for a fruit like brinjal! Btw, that self checkout thing is a minefield for funny experiences – I was doing it the first time and I had to find oranges. Who knew there are more than 5 kinds of oranges in the US! In india there are four types – big, small, ripe, rotten. Those options were nowhere to be seen. πŸ˜€
    Also, welcome to my blog! I hope I keep seeing you more often! πŸ™‚

  35. Jason says:

    Hilarious! Make out was the best one of the lot… LOL

    There has to be a wiki for this kind of stuff..

    JasonΒ΄s latest blog post – It must have been love, but is it over now??

  36. Kokonad says:

    Welcome to my blog, Jason! Thank you SO MUCH for commenting! Yes, I do agree that a Wiki would be a brilliant idea! Ha ha ha! πŸ˜€

  37. Asif says:

    Never use the phrase “Come Again” as it can be mis-interpreted as “Cum again” !!!. Instead use “Pardon Me” or somethin else

  38. Kokonad says:

    Welcome to my blog, Asif! Thank you for dropping by and commenting! πŸ™‚ Heh heh, you know, I still use “come again” a lot more than “I beg your pardon” πŸ˜€ I should try harder to change that! πŸ˜›

  39. Sriram says:

    LOL. Awesome.

    The dicky example is a classic!

  40. Foreign Desi says:

    Haha, all SO true! Last year I used brinjal in convorsation, and none of my friend believed that it was a real word. I had to give them a wikipedia link! I used the “dicky” thing until middle school. When that word had new meanings.

    Another one is lady’s finger (okra, or kathrikai)… I told them that ma made “ladies finger”, and they thought I was talking about the cookie brand.
    Foreign DesiΒ΄s latest post – You can hear my voice.

  41. Kokonad says:

    #Foreign Desi:
    Ha ha ha! Guess what, I think that the fruit brinjal by itself is something of a tale! In a previous comment, Soumya from the UK said that it’s called aubergine! Wow. If someone told me to look for aubergine I would go to the mall. It sounds like a brand name… like Versace.
    The ladies finger thing reminded me of a hilarious incident. A gifted-culinary-artist-of-a-friend was making tiramisu at home. She told me she needed lady fingers. I was thinking why would okra go into tiramisu! I took her to the grocery and showed her where the okra is. (Oh the laughter that came…) Turns out it is a kind of bread that looks like a lady’s finger. Sigh.


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