I am constantly reminded by my children that I have a funny way of talking both in accent and in some of my word choices. Sometimes I overhear them playing and they are mocking my way of speaking. I hear them say “ok, now say it like Mummy does” followed by an attempt and then peals of laughter as they all roll around the floor. They seem to delight in saying “ba nah nah” and “tom ah to” followed by suppressed giggles.
It’s not always my accent that produces laughter, sometimes it is the use of a different word to describe something that is cause for amusement.
Not long ago I was having a phone conversation with my mother in New Zealand. The conversation went something like this:
Mum: So, at the end of the day we were able to get the lawn mowed before the rain.
Me: Oh, that’s good. Emily that's way too many goldfish for the baby, can you take some away? Wait, just feed them to her one at a time so she doesn't get them on the carpet.
Mum: Did you get a goldfish?
Now some of you may be thinking ‘ok, what’s wrong with that conversation?’ The rest of you will most likely be thinking ‘are you insane? What on earth are you feeding goldfish to the baby for?’
You see, there is no such thing as goldfish crackers in New Zealand. We have teddy bear biscuits, chocolate fish, and froggy chocolate. We even have animal crackers (although they are different to the American ones) but no goldfish crackers.
This kind of thing happens all the time. Most of the time I never know when something I say is odd or misunderstood by someone here in the US. Sometimes it comes to me days, weeks or even months later and its too late to correct the misconception.
I remember when we were buying our house in New Zealand. We had my Dad helping to look it over to make sure everything was in order during which time he looked up in the ceiling space. Later on he asked James if houses in America typically had bats in the roof spaces. James replied that not all houses had them but there were some that did. I sat there in amused silence until it was clear to me that neither of these men had any idea what the other was talking about. You see Dad was talking about Pink Batts, a brand of home insulation, and James thought he was talking about bats, the animal. I let them in on their miscommunication and we all had a good laugh.
Of course its not always a cultural difference that creates verbal hilarity in our family, nor is it always me that utters it. Last weekend we were travelling and decided to take the more interesting route home which included a ferry ride across a lake. As we approached the ferry terminal I heard this conversation from the back seat.
Child 1: where’s the ferry?
Child 2: I don’t know, I guess its still on its way
Child 1: will we be flying?
Child 2: no, we’ll be on the water. It’s a boat ferry not a real fairy
Another one happened just this afternoon. We were in the car and Abigail said “Mummy, do I have a brain? Do wittle girls have brains?” Before I could answer Kaitlyn chimed in with “of course you do, everyone in the whole world has a brain, even Isabel”.
There are some misspeaks that I just cannot write down in black and white. They are so shocking that I would be ruined if they became known. Most are just amusing but some are downright wrong. The thing is that I never mean them to be rude and some of the time I really have no idea what the second meaning is until it is explained to me. Usually by my husband who does so through belly laughs complete with streaming tears.
One such incident happened not long after we moved back to the US. I had enrolled Emily in a little preschool and each day at pickup time the parents would gather along the fence to welcome their cherubs back into their arms. On one of these days there had been a birthday within the ranks of the cherubs and the birthday cherub had brought in cupcakes and little gift bags to share with the class. As we all gathered along the fence the children were happily playing in the playground, most of them carrying various items from their goodie bags. One of these items, which seemed very popular, was a little gadget that you blow into which causes a little paper tube to unroll and creates a rather annoying sound. You all know what I’m talking about. They are the staple of childhood birthday parties all over the world.
What you may not know is that they are called different things in different countries. So as this group of parents stood there surveying their darlings and contemplating what it was going to sound like inside their cars in a few minutes, I chimed in with my observation about these noisy toys.
Later that day I got the feeling I may have said something wrong. Perhaps I had explained it in a way that Americans didn’t quite understand. In any case I had got some odd looks from some of the other parents. I called James at work to see if he could shed any light on the situation. This is how the conversation went.
Me: Oh, hi, so you know those kids toys you get at parties that you blow into and the thing uncurls and it makes a hideously loud noise?
Me: So would you say ‘toot your hooter’ or ‘hoot your hooter’?
James: who did you say that to?
Me: oh, the other parents at pickup today were talking about them because someone gave them to the kids.
James: But you didn’t say that did you?
Me: well yes but it seemed like the other parents didn’t quite get what I meant. I said the kids looked so cute running around tooting their hooters but I’m wondering if I should have said hooting instead of tooting.
James: *muffled gasps*
So it turns out that the word hooter is really only used here to refer to a woman’s breasts while my kind of hooter is actually referred to as a noisemaker. I won’t be making that mistake again.
It also dawned on me that this could have been why the restaurant ‘Hooters’ is called that and has nothing to do with the owl on their logo. I had realized that it had scantily clad waitresses but had not previously linked it together with the name.