I’ve had to get used to a number of things since moving to North Carolina. It’s just a little different than what I was used to in Ohio.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to get used to a new place. I’ve lived in Ohio, Alaska, Georgia and even called Afghanistan home for about a year of my life. There are drastic differences from one place to another, but the one that makes it hardest for me — without a doubt — is the dialect.
It actually hinders me. I’m already a little hard of hearing. When I get on the phone to interview one of these folks around here, sometimes they might as well be speaking Spanish.
I got a “C-” but probably deserved an “F+” in Spanish class. In fact, the only Spanish I know to this day is “mas cervesa, por favor.” In my many trips to Central America, Puerto Rico and Mexico I’ve found it useful to know how to say, “more beer, please.”
I used to visit Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla every couple of weeks. I assure you that Russia is not visible from there. In fact, the ocean isn’t even visible.
While Palin may have misrepresented the view, she’s a perfect representation of the dialect. I wondered what was wrong with some lad’s boot once. He was complaining about “a boot.” After a few minutes of mangled conversation I discerned that he was using the Alaskan/Canadian pronounciation for “about.”
When I waited in chow hall lines at Fort Benning, Georgia, it took me at least a week to figure out what the ladies said every time I handed them my tray. “Neksolja,” said the large, somewhat scary-looking woman with a thick Southern accent. Turns out she said “next soldier” like 10,000 times a day. I guess it makes sense why her words might run together eventually.
In the end, I adapted to this southern dialect. With my million dollar smile, I was even able to charm this woman into an extra scoop of gravy every now and then.
Afghanistan presented more challenges for me. After 10 years of American occupation, many people there spoke English. However, it was with thick accents. I was the information operations officer for our unit, among many other roles. That meant I managed our message to the locals and, with it, a staff of local radio DJs.
I almost never had any idea what they were saying to me, but they always called me “cheska.” Then they would chuckle, and I would chuckle right along with them. Turns out that’s a boy with whom they just might want to have sexual relations.
I just took it as a compliment and moved on.
Kids there would ask for “fens” all the time. We were told not to give them our ink “pens,” as they had been known to use them as a means to trigger explosive devices. Afghans, when attempting to speak our language, had great difficulty with Fs and Ps.
It was nice to return to Ohio for a short stint after my active duty military years. However, life in all those places had corrupted my language skills. Asking for a “soda” in northern Ohio is apparently like asking somebody to “turn on” a light here. It’s a “pop” in Ohio, and here people don’t “turn” lights on. They “cut” them on.
Now, after learning all of these dialects I find myself learning yet another language — Eastern Appalachian. My wife was getting warm the other night and prompted me to adjust the thermostat. “Cut the heat down,” she said.
What does she want me to cut?, I thought. Surely she didn’t want me to cut fabric, paper or wood at 11 p.m. After the statement rattled around and hit a few brain cells which were still alive, I figured it out. She wanted me to “turn the heat down.”
Of course, to do this I might need to “mash” a button. Where I’m from we do mash potatoes. Some really tough guys might mash a skull or two in, but buttons not so much. We press buttons.
It’s been interesting for me to see how different things are in all these places I’ve lived. Even something as constant as the English language can change enough to trip me up.
However, I like it here and believe I’ll adapt. I’ll be mashing buttons instead of potatoes and cutting my car on instead of cutting up the dance floor in no time.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.