Monday, June 2, 2008

Education & Humility

If traveling around the world does nothing else, it will shed a light on a few societal ignorances one may harbor and burst any ideas of commercial superiority. For example, our family had lunch with a delightful English farming family yesterday. Their beautiful property was full of animals- peacocks, horses, cats, dogs, chickens, geese- and they grow barley and sugar beets.

Though the USA is the third largest producer of sugar beets, I had never heard of this crop. Our kindly host S stopped in mock shock when Tim asked if the sugar beet was a substitute for sugar cane. I saved the family name by quickly informing him that sugar cane is a substitute for the sugar beet. We were allowed to stay for the remainder of the meal!

We were educated that Silver Spoon sugar is the gold standard of sugar, unlike C & H- which we always thought was "The One". See how educational exposure to different cultures is?

And the beauty and difficulty of the English language continues to surprise and intrigue me. When N and R were over for dinner I offered R some Carmex. As she spread it on her lips she remarked that she thought it smelled like a new "dau."

"Dau?" I asked.

She laughed at me. "No. Dau."

"Doe?" I asked again.

She just looked at me blankly as Tim leaned over and whispered, "Doll."

Golly. I'm not sure I would have ever got that one, not until she had taken to cradling an imaginary baby in her arms and explained that little girls play with them.

Such a simple exchange of words turn into a big deal and make this American feel like an oaf. Like when P suggested I take the "ke'le" out to the others for tea. There was a 15 second delay before I realized she wanted me to take the kettle out. Had she not motioned in the general direction of the kettle it may have taken longer.

On the phone, I was applying for a membership card at a local store and the agent was asking me a series of questions so he could bombard my mail box with useless mail. He asked if I was a vegetarian, if I smoked, and if I was a ________ (something mumbled very quickly, starting with a T and possibly ending in a soft British R.). "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?" He obliged, but I still hadn't a clue what he was saying. I asked him to repeat it again. He did, with no better results. I paused a moment and weighed the possibility of answering a random "yes" or "no" since I still didn't understand him. Instead I moaned a little embarrassed moan and humbly asked him to say it once more. Which he did. And I still didn't get it. Then I explained that I was fairly new still and had trouble understanding British accents, especially when the speaker was talking very quickly. He laughed, and said the word again and added, "You know, someone who doesn't drink alcohol." Good grief. A teetotaler. Say that four times fast with a heavy British accent.

Yes, world travel is both educational and humbling- two things we could always do with! How wise St Augustine was when he said

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."




  1. Oh funny! I remember when I was young a family from England came to visit. My dad had been pen pals with the other dad for years and they were in our country for a visit. The lady asked my mom about a "suspun". She had to repeat it many times and my mom was so embarassed not to be able to tell what she was saying. She said it so quickly as if it were one syllable! It ended up to be a sauce pan! :)

  2. Betsy,

    The trouble really comes from how fast they speak! All the words seem to be condensed and clipped. I feel for your mom. It really is embarrassing, considering we're all speaking the same language!


  3. That is a great quote! You make me want to travel abroad again...ah, someday!