When my mother immigrated in 1955, she picked up English from the radio and taught herself to read from the newspaper. However, as any foreign language speaker knows, bloopers are inevitable.
One day as a new bride, mother bravely ventured to JC Penney to buy her husband a belt, in German known as “Guertel.” Figuring the English word might resemble the German, she approached a salesman in the men’s department and asked, “Do you have any girdles?”
Certain facial muscles twitched, but the salesman kept a straight face. “Excuse me?”
“You know, ein girdle, what men wear.” He shook his head still confused. Finally she motioned around her waist and pretended to buckle.
“Ah,” he smiled, relieved, “now that I can help you with!”
On another occasion . . .
Imagine our reaction as children when Mom referred to the teachers at our school as the “fuckulty.”
More recently . . .
Having lived in the United States for 63 years, Mom’s language skills are certainly proficient, but once in a while words still fail her. Recently she struggled to explain why she’s always worried about losing her purse. I figured her anxieties related to post-war Germany when being caught without personal identification papers could result in arrest. However, I had to laugh when, after several flustered attempts she said, “You see, it’s because my purse has ALL my . . . personality!”
Speaking of women’s purses, I think she’s right, don’t you?