I grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa where most everyone can read and speak English. Little did I know that moving to New York City would not only be a culture shock to my system, but it was a language shock as well.

Written Word
A little background — I was born Deaf and I communicate in Sign Language. If I need to communicate with a Hearing person who does not use Sign, I prefer to use a pad and pencil to write my words. The written word levels the playing field of communication between Deaf and Hearing because each side must make an equal effort to get their point across.

When my husband and I first moved to New York, we were in graduate student housing at Columbia University. We lived a block away from the cathedral of St. John the Divine and right across the street from Tom’s Restaurant (made famous in a Suzanne Vega song of the same name and made even more famous as the coffee shop on NBC’s Seinfeld comedy series).

College Pizza
There’s a place just down the street from Tom’s called College Pizza. Their food is excellent and many Columbia students eat pizza there daily. On one of our first nights in New York, I went into College Pizza alone and I had my pad and pencil in hand to place my order. I wrote down on my pad: “Two pieces of pizza, please” and the guy behind the counter nodded.

I waited and waited. Everyone ahead of me got their pieces of pizza. New people came in and got their pieces of pizza. I waited some more.

And Then There Were Two
Finally, the guy behind the counter packed up two giant whole pizzas in boxes and handed them to me. I gave him a puzzled, disappointed look and shook my head “no” and I showed him my pad again asking for “two pieces of pizza, please.” The guy looked at my pad, showed it to his co-worker and then gave me an ugly, angry, embarrassed face and, in broken English with a heavy Italian accent, he told me to get out of his store!

I was stunned. I didn’t know what went wrong and why he was shooing me from his store. I broke out into tears and went home to tell my husband what had happened. We were both very confused.

The Day After
The next day I went to a different pizza parlor to try and figure out what had happened. I didn’t order anything, but I did look at the menu board and I realized that in New York, a “pizza” is called a “pie” and a “piece” of “pizza” is called a “slice!” Eureka! I finally figured out that the guy at College Pizza, who obviously wasn’t fluent in written English, thought I had asked for “two pies” when I really wrote “two pieces.” I should’ve said that I wanted “two slices” and everything would’ve worked out okay.

I never went back to College Pizza because I didn’t want to put the guy behind the counter in another embarrassing position again since his co-worker obviously explained to him that day that he had misunderstood me. Communication is a very interesting topic to me and the many ways in which it can break down are lessons that can teach us all.

Oh, and another thing? In New York, soft drinks are called “soda” back in the Midwest, we call soft drinks “pop”. Beware of asking for a “pop” in New York because someone might just take you up on that request and shoot you!

Didja Hear The One About…
That reminds me of a joke my husband made up to forever remember my “two pieces” fiasco. Here it is:

I walked into a pizza shop the other day and asked for “Two Slices” and the guy behind the counter cut me twice with a pizza wheel!

Until next time…