A new place disorients, to begin with. If it didn’t, how would it be new? Eight months into a city that is home, for the nonce, I continue to be surprised when the language I speak isn’t the same as the language of other denizens of this city, despite both being curiously labelled ‘English’. Hmmm. Is it a minor matter of the pond coming in the way, you know, the Atlantic? British English versus, you know, American English? (On an aside, why do Americans use ‘you know’ like a comma, using it to pause very now and then, instead of, you know, actually pausing to collect their thoughts?)
I am trying very hard to not dish out my character certificate every time I am asked: How are you? Usually, when greeted thus, I answer: I am very well, thank you. How are you?
However, I realize that the greeting is not really a question of enquiry, more a shorthand for ‘Hi!’ So, my long answer isn’t what folks are expecting exactly. It’s also impractical because by the time I finish answering, the queue behind me at Starbucks is curving around the street corner. So, I observe others to see how they solve this conundrum. An upward toss of the head, a not-quite smile but a stretch of the lips, and a brisk, “Good. Yourself?” Ah ha, there! Economy, efficiency, the hallmark of America, at least of this city.
I linger around to hear if anybody answers that greeting with “Bad”, or better still, “I am bad”. No. None. Each person is intent on stating his/her certificate of goodness upfront, securing the coffee and striding off.
Months on, and I am still resisting. I don’t want to be good today, not-so-good another day, or seriously bad one day. Besides, whose interested? The greeter is being polite. I have truncated my reply to “Very well, thank you. And you?” But it’s still too long, for the transaction at hand - Starbucks server, building concierge, school doorman - requires a two-second social lubricant, one which any non-standard response can derail. “Say that again?”
When and how did a greeting become a call for a character certificate?
Curiously enough, when Americans are not being good, they can be caught declaring ‘they’re bad’, rather, ‘their bad’. First person: My bad. Which is bandied around as substitute for ‘my apology’ or ‘my mistake’. I am gobsmacked. ‘My bad’ is indeed very very bad: grammatically incorrect and oh so inelegant.
But you have to give it to the Americans - at least they are consistent in their obsession with declaring their character at the drop of a hat. There, I slipped in my little British English idiom, as fusty as the Queen herself but when you’ve grown up listening to BBC as the standard bearer of English, it’s a little hard not to be pernickety. As even Bollywood certifies, angrezi padhdi git mit tu kardi, jinvey queen saadi Vic-to-riya …
Any examples of Americansims that have bamboozled you? Please do share, right here!