Call, Don't Ring

If you have lived in the US, you will realize that there is a difference in the American and Indian usage of the Engish language. The outcomes can be funny or disastrous, depending on the situation


I have lived in the US a little over 30 years now, and am thoroughly Americanised in the usage of English. I come across the Indian version from frequent contact with the Indian embassywallas, Indian students and visitors from India. There are so many differences big and small, in the meaning and pronunciation, in the usage of the same language - English - between Americans and Indians, that it can be amusing and even embarrassing at times.

Many moons ago, the first time I went to McDonald I did not know what was meant by the phrase "to go" ( which means to take the food away and not eat there ). The girl at the counter asked me "to  go?" and I thought she was asking me to leave!  I was upset and retorted " I have come here to eat, why should I go?" It took some explaining on both sides before I could place my order.

Americans are very verbose in saying things, which in themselves are somewhat different from those in India. One almost always says "How are you doing?" when you meet an acquaintance, and the accepted reply is usually "Pretty good" and not just "Fine". The reply to "Thank you" is "You are welcome" and not "Mention not". But if you say thanks to someone like a sales girl, she is more likely to say "Uh-ha". Unlike in India,"Excuse me" deserves an answer like "No problem".

When you are about to part, sometimes, you have to play games of getting in the last word. Expressions like "see you later", "have fun", "take care", "have a nice weekend","don't work too hard", come in handy. I am also reminded about the use of the expression "Really". This is used to mean "Oh, I see". For example, if somebody asks you where do you work, and you answer "government", pat comes the exclamation "Really!", which a first few times sounds like they do not believe you.

There are a lot of words and phrases which are used differently. A funny example is that an "eraser" is never called a "rubber", because the latter is slang here for a contraceptive!  An Indian friend at a restaurant, when asked, if she would like anything more at the end of the meal, answered: "No, I will just take the bill". You should have seen the look on the waiter's face - of course, she should have asked for the check which she could have then paid with a bill(s).

Many American pronunciations are different from the British ones used in India. For instance, one pronounces "schedule" as "skedjule". Also "coupon" is pronounced as "q-pon". When the "i" is preceded by an "m" or a "t", it is pronounced as "my" and "ty" - for example the words "semi" and "anti". When it is preceded by a "d", unlike in India you do not say it as "die", but as "dee", for example the word "divorce".

An elderly Indian couple have been living in this country for the last 20 years or so. This incident occurred a few years ago. They were in one of those huge parking lots at a department store. On returning to their car after shopping they realised they had a dead battery on hand. So they looked around and the lady spotted a man about to get into his truck. She told her husband that she would ask that man if he could help them. She approached him. The lady said, "Hi". The man replied "Hi, may I help you." The lady said "Yes please, could you please give me a jump".

       At this the man was rather shocked, and sort of taken aback. He appeared to turn red, until he noticed the elderly gent in the car. Then he laughed and remarked that "Oh you mean that your car needs a jump start". The lady remarked "That's what I said". Later in the car when the puzzled lady narrated this incident to her husband, he almost drove off the road roaring with laughter. It was only after he explained what "jump" meant, that the lady turned red. In fact we discuss this incident almost every time we go to dinner at their place. By the way, she has never been to that shopping complex ever since this incident out of fear of bumping into that man!

Tailpiece : In the US you give someone a "call" not a "ring" on the telephone. A newly arrived Indian went to the university library looking
for a job, and had a long discussion with the lady in charge. While leaving he told her, "Well I'll give you a ring tommorrow." The lady was so stunned that she didn't speak for a few minutes, and then blurted out, "Isn't it a bit early for that?"

The following article is from The Hindustan Times, 10th July.   

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