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RITE OF PASSAGE: Language barrier

Summer is here, and it is time to get some things done around the house and yard. All winter, my wife dreams of things she wants me to do when summer arrives. The longer the winter, the longer the list. And our Oklahoma winters mean my list is always . . . extensive. I don’t know if any of you other men receive a similar list. I always know my life will be measured by the number of items I complete by the end of the summer.

As my wife and I prepare for summer to come, we occasionally watch some of the DIY (Do It Yourself) home repair and gardening shows. We live in an older home and are glad to take advantage of the experts’ advice. I have a small problem, though. It seems more and more of the hosts for these shows speak with British accents. Since the British have built castles that have stood for hundreds of years, I’m sure they think they can tell us upstart Americans how to build. I don’t mind the help, but I can’t understand a word they say without extreme concentration. For some reason, no accent is harder for me to understand than a British one. I discovered this firsthand the year my wife and I had the privilege of spending some time in London. I’m proud to say that while I was there, I lost more than 100 pounds. (You got it: their bills are called “pounds.” My wife has threatened to go into hiding if she catches me using this line one more time.)

Only a few minutes into the country, I discovered that no one in England speaks English. Instead, they speak . . . British. As we went through customs, a young agent approached us and started asking questions. When he began to talk, I wondered if we had landed in the wrong country. I didn’t understand a single word. The sign above his head reassured me we were in the right country. No matter how slowly he spoke, my only response was . . . “What?” As I listened to his thick British accent, all I could do was squint my eyes and wrinkle my nose, hoping this facial contortion would cause my ears to move toward the front of my head. Maybe then I could understand what he was saying. As he repeated his questions for the third time, I had the tremendous urge to blurt out, “No hablo Inglés.” I listened again, but to no avail. The frustrated agent finally stamped our passports and waved us through. From that point, my time in London went . . . downhill.

We decided to go see “Cats,” the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. To this day, I don’t know what possessed us. I didn’t understand any of the words. Not only that, but those words I couldn’t understand were spoken by a bunch of people dressed in cat pajamas. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t make heads or cattails of the story. During halftime (I think they called it intermission) I bought a brochure to read during the second half. It explained everything I missed in the first half. So much for adding a dose of culture to my life.

A few days into the trip, I realized I had been committing a cultural faux pas. My wife’s name is Cathy, but her family, friends and I call her “Lou.” Whenever I saw something exciting during our tour of London, I pointed to it with a loud, “Look, Lou!” It took me a while to learn that the bathrooms in England are called “loo” and pronounced just like “Lou.” The British must have thought I was one crazy tourist going around the city pointing out such historical buildings as Big Ben, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace and loudly proclaiming, “Look, the bathroom.”

My wife had a great time and would like to go back. I, on the other hand, was glad to arrive home where people speak my kind of English. I almost grabbed the American customs agent and kissed him on the forehead when he asked if I had anything to declare. Declare? I wanted to declare at the top of my lungs, “I’m glad to be home where everyone can understand each other!”

After all, isn’t that what home is all about? It’s a place where everyone understands each other.

Father, help the moms and dads who read this. Sometimes they find the language of their teenagers as hard to understand as . . . British. Please work to make all our homes places of understanding and love. Amen.

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

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