Being recent additions to the Indian population in the US, my wife and I were eager to blend in as quickly as possible. Since my Indian English was making me stick out like a sore thumb with my American colleagues, we decided that we should first learn to talk English the American way, accent and all. Indians have a motley mix of complex nods and shakes and other complicated head movements, interspersed liberally with assorted hand gestures, some of them fairly dramatic! I swear I have seen some of my colleagues trying to follow the frequent take-offs and landings of my hand as I speak! It’s no wonder that at the end of my vigorous verbal and bodily calisthenics, I am often met with blank looks! We realized that we had no option but to ‘go American’, a feat which is never easy for lesser mortals of the rest of the world! Nonetheless, we set about our task in earnest, little realizing that we were biting off more than we could chew!


Firstly, we decided that we needed to listen better. This was easy. Often, in our desperation to get words to sound correct, we Indians end up saying things we don’t mean and meaning things we don’t say! Not so the Americans - with them, everything is spelt out, clearly, unequivocally. Indians hum and haw through sentences, swallowing one half, mumbling the other half and finally what’s left is static! Indian to Indian, that static is profoundly meaningful, but to an American that’s World War 2 enemy code! But let’s stick to the listening part for a bit.


Fortunately, Americans don’t have too many dialects and most words are pronounced the same way by almost everybody, so your antenna needs to be pointed in one general direction!. To listen to a group of Indians speak you’d need an air show of antennas flying around in multiple formation! For skills honed on such acrobatics, this exercise was a breeze! At least, compared to what came next!


Americans take their sports seriously and a lot of sports terms have crept into their daily language. To understand ‘American’, we’d have to understand their sports! My long-suffering wife vehemently refused to exchange baseball for cricket, so I meekly and sensibly agreed to list down ‘sport-oriented’ phrases and learn their meaning. Very soon we thought we’d mastered most of them.


One day, my colleagues were discussing the previous evening’s game. I was paying close attention and eloquently expressed my agreement or disagreement by intermittently rotating my head in various directions. To be truthful, I wasn’t sure of what was happening at all, but I had to let everybody know that I had arrived on their sports scene! So, at what seemed an appropriate moment, sounding casually American and ‘baseballish’, I made my strategic entry with “ Right off the bat, eh?” There were several moments of silence until a voice said, “Not really. We were talking about last evening’s basketball game.” As for me, I wanted to slither down to the center of the cosmos where nobody could see me! That was my last attempt at any intelligence connected to their sports.


We’ve particularly learnt to dread that peculiarly American ‘the what?’ question to whatever we say, for that meant that we’d have to synchronize our audio with our highly coordinated limb movement routine! Getting ourselves understood by people at the first attempt is now a game between us and we practice a lot before every attempt. I am particularly conscientious in my efforts, desperately trying to get ahead of my wife in the count!


A few days ago, we needed a faucet washer at home. It was my turn to make the attempt at the hardware store. Our little game was interestingly poised and I was desperate to get this one right the first time. I practiced saying ‘faucet washer’ a few hundred times, saying it fast, saying it slow, getting the accent absolutely correct, till the washers were coming out of my own ears! When the moment came, I was mentally chewing my toenails right down to the pink, but outwardly carrying a nonchalant expression, lest my wife get one more chance to snigger at me! Just for the sake of abundant caution, I muttered ‘faucet washer’, ‘faucet washer’ a few times under my breath and with the watchful eyes of my wife on me, I walked over to the guy at the counter. He looked up with that well lubricated cheerful smile. “What can I do for you guys today?”, he asked. And, after all that time and effort practicing, I said, “I am looking for a…a…….a…..washet faucer!”. Even before I’d completed my sentence I knew that the game was lost! My wife sniggered. “The what?” the salesman asked.