By A.J. Llewellyn
There is one aspect to being a foreigner in the US that few immigrants talk about. Yes, I'm Australian and yes I've lived here 25 years but I still have trouble ordering food in restaurants and making myself understood when dealing with even the most basic business transaction.
People tell me my Australian accent is cute, but try asking for butter in a restaurant.
I did yesterday and the waitress acted like I was speaking in Swahili, backward.
"Butter," I said, resorting to a Ricky Ricardo impersonation by picking up my bread roll and knife and miming the act of buttering.
"Oh, budda," she said, giving me a death ray stare. "Why didn't you say so?"
"I did," I bleated, making my friends laugh.
It's a matter of shame to me that I can't make myself understood and it's why I prefer to write. Recently I was trying to negotiate making a late payment on a bill and the automated voice response system kept asking if I wanted to pay the 'past due amount' or the full amount.
"Past due amount" I enunciated into the phone.
On and on the electronic dunce-wizard and I went until I realized it was not identifying the word "past" as in "pah-st."
So I said "past" the American way and the little voice on the other end accepted my arrangements. I really thought I should have gotten a medal or a sticky bun or...something after that effort.
The first week I arrived with my dad, we were, like most Australians, obsessed with the idea of diners. And the famous bottomless cup of coffee. We hit every place we could find. Sadly only a few are left standing but when we went to one, on La Cienega (Australians pronounce ot La Sinayga until they are educated properly) my dad asked if he could have the rest of his coffee in a cup to take away.
The wait staff scratched their heads and acted like they had no idea what we were talking about. My dad is a man of the world but got frustrated fast.
It took ten minutes, by which time we were traumatized and the coffee long cold for them to beat us over the head with "you want it to go."
"That's what I said," my father shrieked.
I still want to "take away" but remember to say I want takeout or to go.
My brother Anthony learned the hard way that scallops in a fish and chip shop are not greasy wonderful slabs of fried potatoes, but seafood.
I learned too. Fast. I learned to pronounce the city of Van Nuys like guys, not niece.
Sepulveda Boulevard, the main north-south artery of Los Angeles is an amusing challenge to all Australians. I can always tell a new Aussie in town by the way they pronounce it.
In Australia there is cheap wine called Sepulveda. It's pronounced Seppel-veeda. That's how we pronounce the street name too: Seppel-veeda. It should be Sep-ahl-veda.
La Jolla. Who knew it's pronounced La Hoya?
Not in Australia we didn't.
Pardon me whilst I butter (pronounced butt-ter) my toast and try to hang on to what is a big part of me. The way I speak. What about you? Has anything like this ever happened to you?