Why American Idioms Are Discouraging or I Don’t Want to Be an American Idiom.


Once, long ago and never again, I was once wandering around on youtube instead of working when I came across a video of Chris Martin, Coldplay’s singer, song writer and all around cutie. It was complete happenstance as I spend little to no time seeking out anything remotely connected to Mr. Martin as he is far too young for me to crush on and, therefore, of no interest to me.

As I sorted through hundreds of hours of examples of why Chris Martin is not interesting to me, I came across outtakes from a British show called Extras, starring Ricky Gervais, the actor/comedian and very loud laugher. Chris Martin had appeared on the show and was commenting on the subject of why, although he is a performer, he finds himself lacking as an actor. “Just ’cause you can boil a chicken,” he said adorably. “Doesn’t mean you can skin a rabbit.”

At first, I considered the fact that, although, like Mary Poppins, he is practically perfect in every way, he might also have a bat in his belfry, you know? His light are on but nobody’s home, get it? One taco short of a combination plate?

If you’re American, you are totally clear that I was doubting the sanity of the object of my affection, in jest, of course; he’s a freaking genius! He was obviously utilizing what I would consider a vague idiom, British style, which led me to consider American idioms and how confusing they must be to newcomers.

Imagine you’re a person from another country, a foreigner, if you will. Your country ends in skia or nia and has a proud and long history. Still you decide to leave your mother, who loves you more than anyone else ever will, except for your dog, your dad, who also loves you, but in a more “when’s he getting outta here?” sort of way, your siblings, friends and various relatives whom you see only at Christmas and Throw Paint on Each Other Day.

Leaving home wasn’t a decision taken lightly or on the spur of the moment. In fact, you’ve wanted to go to America ever since you learned about The Home Shopping Network. So you’ve saved your rupees, or whatever it is that your particular country is nearly out of, and you’ve studied English since there apparently is no such thing as an American language.

Finally, on a fateful day forever marked by your mother as the day my child ceased to be grateful for everything I’ve ever done for him/her, you pack your bag and hit the cobblestones outside of your cottage.

How you get here is a tale you can tell your grandkids as I’m not interested in the details, but you do arrive into the heart of a metropolitan area. The noise! The lights! The people! The weird smell…which…although is a bit alarming, doesn’t deter you, although it does nauseate you and you decide to investigate what American’s drink.

You enter Hal’s Get Your Drink and Get Out Store. After some time, you realize the line isn’t moving; it is surging, as customers rush past with buckets of drinks, sucked through plastic pipes.

These Americans,” you say to yourself with an affectionate grin. “Who can tell you about them?”

Finally, you make you way to the counter. “Excuse me, sir,” you say a few dozen times. Fortunately, a terrifying noise just outside the entrance, silences the crowd, sending them scurrying to the window, mumbling words you’ve not heard before but assume, given the tone, are the kind which resulted in a mouth full of soap when you were still wearing short pants, mostly because you were short.

You get your chance. “Excuse me,” you say. “I would like to purchase a refreshing beverage.”

Wha-?” says the guy behind the counter who could be a girl, but you decide it’s best not to ask.

A refreshing beverage?” You repeat, as the customers trickle back to the counter.

Are you pulling my leg?” says the guy here-to-for named Hal.

This puzzles you. “I am not… unless it’s a custom?” You reply.

Look, buddy,” says Hal. “I don’t know what’s eating you, but I don’t got all day.”

You feel sympathy for the poor man who has less than 24 hours to live, perhaps due to some sort of rampant bug infestation, but mostly, you wonder if this is the best place to buy a drink. “I’m sorry for your trouble,” you say. “I’d like a drink.”

OK!” says Hal. “Now we’re getting some place.”

Where?” You ask.

Where?” Hal replies, his face turning an odd mix of red and redder.

Fortunately, a young lady, steps from behind you. “Look, Hal,” she says. “Don’t bite his head off, for crying out loud.” She turns to you. “What’s your poison?” She asks, speaking loudly and slowly; enunciating as your family does with your great-uncle who fell out of a tree on his 50th birthday.

Although you don’t understand the question you decide to try one more time before seeking out your country’s national treasure; McDonalds.“Water, please?”

See?” She says to Hal. “He’s just wet behind the ears.”

No,” you tell her. “I’m dry in my mouth.”

Good for you!” she cries out. “Water, Hal!” she says as she turns to go. “And I better not hear that you charged him an arm and a leg.”

This is a terrifying land, you tell yourself as you pull a bill from your wallet.

That’ll be two dollars!” Hal announces.

Jeez,” says the guy behind you. “They make you pay through the nose for water, don’t they?”

Shaking now, you unfold your money, hoping the cash will satisfy the man behind the counter and that he isn’t in the market for body parts. Hal takes your money, hands you a bottle of water and a receipt. You turn to go, relieved.

Wait a minute” says the guy behind you who intends to pay with secretions from his nose. “I smell a rat.”

Good god, you think as you try to hurry out the door, but the fellow grabs your arm. “Keep your pants on,” he tells you. “Whadda ya tryin’ to pull?” he yells at Hal.

You try to wrestle away as you’d prefer not to be pulled, particularly if there’s any notion of trouser removal.

Okay, okay,” says Hal. “Don’t jump down my throat.” He holds out a few bills, but you see your chance, break free and flee the store and, while you’re at it, the country.

Whadda ya, some kind of a nut?” Someone cries after you, as you race away, longing for your mother who was right about foreign countries, (and everything else, just for the record,) which you will tell her when you arrive safely home with everything you were born with still attached.


2 responses »

  1. I like “As I sorted through hundreds of hours of examples of why Chris Martin is not interesting to me…” and “Your country ends in skia or nia…” and “your dad, who also loves you, but in a more “when’s he getting outta here?” sort of way…”

  2. “… mumbling words you’ve not heard before but assume, given the tone, are the kind which resulted in a mouth full of soap when you were still wearing short pants, mostly because you were short.” Ha! Love it!!!

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