Twenty-two years ago, when I first arrived in America, I was intrigued by how Americans greet others. “Hello, how are you?” People greet others warmly and even say hello to a stranger on the street. I loved it –I am a warm, loving, caring person and I love to greet people with a smile. However, I struggled with American humor at times, especially SEX jokes. It takes me a long time to comprehend. If you are in a roomful of people where everyone is laughing, and if may see a guy looking awkwardly – that’s me! Sometimes, I don’t know why they are laughing; I laugh because everyone else is laughing. That’s when I turn into a Tube light. A Tube light is a fluorescent light, type of bulb that requires a longer time to warm up. It flickers before it lights up completely. Sometimes my brain does the same thing particularly with American humors. Friends, let me tell you a few incidents.
Art work by Prachurya Baruah
Last month, I gave a Toastmaster speech about rubber. I decided to use a prop. I saw a rubber lying on my teenage daughter’s desk, I asked her, “Can I borrow this rubber?”. “This is not a rubber; this is an eraser …and Papa please don’t say a rubber.” “Why? I asked in surprise”. I went ahead with my speech. During the speech, I explained the change in chemical composition of rubber when a powdery substance was poured over the liquid. I thought it would be better if I introduced a prop; But as soon as I opened and showed a packet, the audience started laughing, some giggled, a few others turned red. Why? Like a Tube light, it dawned on me that in America, this packet of rubbers actually is a contraceptive! (I hid my face)
The second incident was when our club was organizing the Toastmaster’s fall Social. It was a potluck, and when Scott Shaeffer, the party host, handed me the sign-up sheet, I asked him, “Do you like Chicken Curry?” To my pleasant surprise he replied – “Oh, yes, I love Chicken Curry.” I was quite pleased. Since I would bring the curry from India One O One (101) which was a restaurant nearby, I asked Scott – do you know why it’s called One O One? To my surprise, Scott responded out of the blue - Oh, it reminds me of my college days. College days, why ? it flew completely over my head. I wanted to ask him – “Scott, I am talking about an Indian restaurant and why on earth does it remined you of your college days?” I wondered if it was another American idiom. I couldn’t just ask him, my Tube light began to flicker. Now, some people with Tube light syndrome have a great quality – they don’t give up easily. They climb over, they climb under, and they climb around until they have an answer. I looked around and saw Dr. Paul Fischer smiling at me. Mr. Paul, a doctor, has tremendous empathy for someone like me suffering from Tube light syndromes. I got into a conversation with Paul asking why the number 101 reminded Scott of his college days. Dr. Paul thought about it and declared –“You know what, it’s elementary.” Bingo, I got it! In America the elementary college courses are named One o One, Physics One O One, Chemistry One O one, Mathematics One O one. I finally understood why Scott became nostalgic and emotional when he heard the number One O One!! Voila – My Tube light came on and lit up. I said, “Scott, the restaurant is called One O One because their buffet features 101 dishes!” It was his turn to smile, he started laughing.
The third incident was when I was preparing for a speech contest. I asked a few fellow club members if they could help me refine my speech for the competition. Everyone agreed and attended a mock session where I gave the speech. The speech was about a childhood incident when I was running a race wearing half pants. A close friend of mine cautioned me. “In America, no one would understand half pants, they are called shorts, you must take extra care to pronounce and enunciate it clearly – say H A L F pants.” I followed his advice and, practiced it many times. In the story there was a scene when I had to enact running a 100-meter race at a high speed. Thus, I was speaking and acting at the same time.
I was huffing and I was puffing,
my body was throbbing and my heart was pounding,
my breathing was heavy and my voice was shaky
because when I finished, Bruce Arfsten asked – “Did you say HOT pants?” , Why, why did he say HOT? I looked around, the AC was on, it was cool inside! I noticed everyone giggling and then saw them laughing. Something was going on, but I couldn’t figure it out, my Tube light flickered. Then it dawned on me that in America, cool means smart, he is a cool guy; but if you say he is HOT it means ….. he is Sexy. My innocent, pure childhood tale had turned into a hot , spicy, salacious, seductive, sultry , sexy story. I could not believe it. But then I heard Laurie – “Ankur it’s an American joke. Your speech made us laugh, we love the humor, and we love your speech.” I was pleased.
Friends, twenty-two years ago, a young man landed in this great country. He has learned a lot, but to this day sometimes he doesn't understand things. As his Tube light flickers, he climbs over, climbs under, and climbs around until he finds the answer. And when he does, he brightens up the room around him and everyone in it.