Monday, November 22, 2010

A Turn of Phrase

Current Vermilion Voice column below - you might could check it out.

Obviously, during my first 24 hours in Texas, I knew to drop the “eh?” and drop it fo
r good. No way was I going to stand out with that most famous form of Canadian identity. Wasn't up for ridicule on that. I was busy adjusting and feeling like the hick from the country as it was, so I certainly didn't want to draw that kind of attention to myself.

I can see now that the use of “eh?” in Canadian speech is such a nice, diplomatic, consensus-seeking word. It is our desire that the listener agree with us. We are not willing to plow over them with our beliefs and we want to just double check that we haven't offended or overruled them in any way. It's really such a nice thing to say – too bad it gets such a bad, international rap.

The American version of “eh?”, which is “huh?”, has not been something I can bring myself to pick up to fill the void. It is so rude sounding to my ears. “It's sure nice out today huh?” sounds like a question followed by some sort of caveman grunt.

Although, avoiding “huh?”, I have picked up some idioms. Seems to be unavoidable after a decade away. I think (and hope) they are few and far between, because I actually feel mildly guilty when I hear non-Canadian phrases pop out. There is something slightly unpatriotic about asking my kids to put something in the trash. I hesitate when I tell them to get on their sneakers or go find their house shoes (slippers). “Grab me a sack,” makes me squirm a bit.

“I'm gonna get me some food,” is like nails on a chalk board and I hope, hope, hope I've never said such a thing. Also, please, kick me under the table if I ever reply “uh huh” as an alternative for “you're welcome.” Hate that.

But, my blending in with the locals took on horrific proportions the day I heard “might could” come out of my mouth. Let me explain. Around here, there is a deep need to be agreeable and polite so the phrase “might could” is a noncommittal, polite way to say, “I'll consider it”.

Here's how it reared its seriously-grammatically-challenged ugly head in my world.

“Do you want to meet us at McGuckin park around 2?” my friend asked.

“Well, we might …. could ... meet you there. I'll let you know,” I replied while dying a little inside.

At least I can say, in my defense, it came out more as a hesitant, halting reply and I really did have a bit of indecisiveness about the answer. I didn't just run it all together like the locals. “I mightcould do that,” they say as a way of being sweetly agreeable but not actually committing themselves.

One nice thing that I have adopted is “be sweet” which is something you hear Mother's warn all across the playgrounds. Being sweet is something southerners have down to a science. The ooey, gooey “bless your heart” is a constant refrain. But, beware the hidden insult that often comes with it. “Your daughter is certainly talkative isn't she? Bless her heart.” “I guess he couldn't make it to our big, family dinner. Bless his heart.”

The Queen's English is what gets me in trouble most often. Asking for cutlery at a restaurant got me a blank stare. I just blankly stared right back until I realized I should have used the word “utensils”.

The worst mix up happened in a west-Texas town which consisted of a couple stop signs and a gas station. I headed into the gas station and asked, “Could I use your wash room?”. The attendant looked at me blankly and then said “Follow me.”

We went through the door to the service bays, across the room and to the back wall where he pointed to a sink and said “there”.

I just barely stopped myself from blurting “You want me to go there?”, when I put it all together and realized he thought I just wanted to wash.

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