Dear Friends

Letters home from Prince George.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dear Friends 12

Written: September 4, 2006
Published: September 6, 2006

Dear Friends,

I should apologise for the long gap between letters; the summer has been busier than I expected, and finding time to sit down and write to you all has been a lot more difficult than I expected. Over the last few weeks, we have crammed in a lot of fun activities, including a visit from my family, and a holiday of our own.

It was great to have everyone here for three weeks, and I think it was particularly interesting for us to play the part of natives, and watch other people adjusting to the differences which we now more or less take for granted. I wonder when it was that I stopped peering at the change in my pocket, trying to remember which coin is which, and wondering why on earth the 5-cent one is bigger than the 10-cent one – it wasn’t until I watched other people doing it that I realised I no longer think about it.

Several times my passengers had to be gently redirected to the passenger side of my car, and I realised that I no longer do that, either – having to pretend that there was something really important I needed to look at on the passenger seat before sheepishly scurrying round to my own side of the car to drive off.

I can go into a Tim Hortons (and remind me to tell you about them one day) and order complex arrangements of hot and cold drinks, doughnuts, cookies and muffins, and get exactly what I wanted at the end of it, and I can barely remember the times when I just stood there and stared blankly at the staff while they asked me what I wanted. I can even order lunch in any number of sandwich outlets and get more or less what I feel like, although I still haven’t worked out how to get cheese and nothing else in one; I like a challenge, though.

However, I can still be caught out by the language differences. For example, I was cooking (yes, I cook!) the other night, and when I reached the part when the recipe asked for green onions, I knew what they were, but the instruction to grill the result sent me to the piece of kitchen equipment I have always called the ‘grill’. However, what I was supposed to do was turn the barbecue on; what I did was ‘broil’ the chicken, and the result, although perfectly edible, was not quite what had been intended.

We now – thanks in part to the boys, who took to the task with great enthusiasm – speak in a kind of almost-Canadian, where we hardly ever get chips and fries mixed up, and pronounce ‘yoghurt’ in the way which doesn’t get us stared at when we order it. But we still get caught out by things.

My most painful early experience was buying a wireless router for my office. Now I know perfectly well that the North American pronunciation of this piece of kit is different to the way I’ve always said it (and, having worked in IT, I’ve talked about routers more often than most people). So I was quite confident asking for one that I had got it right. Unfortunately, I hadn’t really taken into account the fact that my accent throws people off in the first place; when I wasn’t understood, I tried the British pronunciation (“a rooter”); that merely confused matters further; in the end, I had to go and point to it; everyone in the store (not the ‘shop’; I can do that one now) staring at the back of my rapidly reddening ears.

So we have tried to say things the Canadian way, and I’m sure it has helped the boys settle in better; they talk to their team-mates about soccer cleats instead of football boots and it is only me who cringes inwardly every time I hear it – imagine how I felt last week when we had to go and buy some.

And then, just when you think you have got it, life throws up a word you simply cannot get from context or anything else. For example, on the lists of equipment we needed to supply for going back to school were ‘duotangs’ in various colours.

Now, from the context, I could tell that it was a piece of stationery, and that it came in more than one colour, but beyond that I was stumped. I tried first principles; it must have (or be) two of something, and presumably ‘tang’ doesn’t refer to flavour or Chinese dynasties, so maybe it means a metal spike of some kind. Two metal spikes? Staples, perhaps? But why would I need only 6 of them, and all in different colours?

In the end, I had to ask the boys, who – once they had stopped laughing at their father – pointed me to folders – the kind of folder which has internal spikes for gripping on to holed paper. Now comes the strange part – I used these folders most days of my working life for filing and sorting papers, but I cannot now remember what we called them. It wasn’t ‘duotangs’, though.

Oh, and so much for my deductive powers – these folders have three ‘tangs’.

Still, in the end, and despite the language difficulties, the boys are ready to go back to school; they have all their oddly-named stationery items in their backpacks; I have figured out what our old morning routine was, and I’m pretty sure I can get them to their new classrooms with faces washed and teeth brushed, and then I’ll come back home, sink into my chair and start doing again whatever it was I was doing 9 weeks ago when we left off.

And although I’ll be glad to be back in the saddle, as it were, I will miss the long days of boys together - that was, after all, one of the main reasons for making this big change.

I’ll let you know how we all adjust.