I was pretty confident about my language skill when I came to the USA in 2004 from India, but it took a nose-dive within 20 minutes of my landing there. It was amazing to hear the responses for all the “thank yous” I offered. From the regular “no problem at all, and my pleasure etc.” to a slightly unusual “no probs and you bet” to a stunningly musical “hmm…hmm” almost swept me off my feet.
It took me a couple of seconds to figure out that “probs” was a shorter version of “problem” and the sing-song “hmm hmm” probably meant – “your thank you has been received successfully.” I liked it so much that I didn’t miss a single chance of thanking people — just to hear that tone once!
My quota of being surprised was not complete yet. The international student department of my university requested one of my classmates to take me for a campus tour. As we completed one round, my friend asked me to join her for lunch and then dropped the bomb-shell — “You wanna have some soda?”
I was absolutely clueless. What am I going to do with soda in my lunch?
In India soda is referred to sodi-bicarb or baking soda, as well as soda ash.
My encounter in a coffee shop was also pretty interesting as I asked for some “milk” for my coffee-to-go, the cashier was blank for a split second and then jubilant because of the sudden brain wave that hit her
– “oh yeah, creamer! Sure!”
Me – “thanks!”
Pat came the reply – “hmm…hmm” along with a gorgeous smile!
I started practicing driving after a few days as one of my friends agreed to assist me. On the very next day my friend decided to take me to the freeways. As I took the exit I noticed the heavy traffic and froze in panic.
In fact, I was slightly distracted as I was thinking “how much it could hurt me if I would collide?” and slowed down a little instead of speeding up. My daydreaming came to a jolt when I heard my friend shouting desperately – “gas…gas…!”
I was completely zapped – again.
How on earth am I supposed to get “gas” in a running car in the middle of the street? And, more importantly – why?
LPG, or Liquefied Petroleum Gas, commonly known as “gas” is used as a cooking fuel in India.
My friend understood something was seriously wrong from my “deer in the headlight” look and stretched one of his legs to my side and put his feet on my shoes to press the accelerator.
The car sped up.
No wonder he didn’t want to come with me the next day, I didn’t blame him.
There are a few other differences between the English words used in India and the words used in the USA – Curd is known as yogurt here, brinjal as eggplant, capsicum as bell pepper, finger chips as french fries, and football as soccer.
But the one that got me the most was when I met one of my classmates after my first seven days long vacation. He asked me with a mischievous smile – “you staying out of trouble?”
My instant reaction was – “What did I do?”
He burst out laughing saying – “I have never heard such a cute response!”
Indian education system is heavily influenced by the British system and so is the English spoken in the country, but I think it is also the local/ regional/ colloquial influence that makes the difference.
Nonetheless, learning local the idioms and coinage was fun and so was the experience. I think there are differences between terminologies those are used in the various parts of the country, so are in India. I might meet an Indian in the school, in the market, in the coffeeshop or in the airport and we might start speaking English because that could be the only common language for us. Communication can really be fun sometimes!