Saturday, April 28, 2012

You wanted a what?

Students who learned British English before coming to the U.S. have a couple of challenges. One is the occasional spelling difference (colour, organise, etc.) and the other is the occasional difference in vocabulary (e.g., lift vs. elevator, lorry vs. truck).

Several years ago one such student admired an interesting eraser that another student had. It was like a mechanical pencil, except that it had a long eraser in it instead of lead. The conversation went something like this:

Bijal:  Where did you get that?
Roza:  At the pharmacy.
Bijal:  I will go to the pharmacy and get this type of rubber.
Me:  (feeling the need to interject)  Eraser, Bijal. In the U.S. it's called an eraser.
Bijal:  Yes, yes. We call it a rubber. I will ask in the pharmacy for this type of rubber.
Me: (sighing)  Maybe you should come out in the hall with me a second, Bijal.

Now, Bijal normally had great big eyes, but when I explained the most likely outcome of asking for a rubber in a pharmacy, her eyes became the size of dinner plates. As we walked back in the room, she repeated several times, “Eraser. Eraser. Eraser. Eraser?”


I nodded.
“Eraser. Eraser. Eraser...”