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Cheeseburger and Pickles

   

I went to the U.S. for the first time in June of 1970.  I hoped I would be able to speak English in no time.  I was nineteen.  Shortly after, I attended Palomar Junior College in San Marcos.  The following is an excerpt from one of my stories.  I was in the cafeteria waiting for my turn to place an order.

"Next!  What would you like, young lady?" a waitress says to me, holding a yellow pencil in her left hand.

"Hamburger and 7-up, please," I say.

"Would you like a hamburger or a cheeseburger?" she says with a broad smile. 

The waitress looks like Alice, the housekeeper of the Brady Bunch.  Over the counter, a male cook picks up a stainless-steel spatula and turns over hamburger patties.  It makes a sizzling sound.  He hurries to put a piece of bright yellow cheese on top of each patty.  It looks yummy.  Those hamburgers must come with cheese or without cheese.  The sizzling sound goes down. 

"Hamburger and cheese and 7-up, please," I say.

"Do you want a hamburger or cheeseburger?" she says looking into my eyes.

I feel my face blush and my heart begin pounding.   People are waiting behind me.   I have to hurry up.  Maybe I should use the word "with" instead of "and" because a piece of cheese melt and stick with a patty like a mother holding her child's hand. 

"Hamburger with cheese, please," I say.

"Do you want a hamburger?" the waitress says making her chin double.

People must be staring at me.  I told myself I must hurry up.

"A cheeseburger?" she says without changing her tone.

"Yes."

I wonder what difference a cheeseburger and a hamburger with cheese make.  I can recognize burger and cheeseburger as a pair, and hamburger and cheesehamburger can also be a pair, but the pair of hamburger and cheeseburger throws me off.  I thought English was logical.  Maybe her mind works in a different way because she is left handed.  I hadn't had any friends or acquaintances that were using their left hand except my grandfather.  My grandfather used a pair of scissors with his left hand and wrote using his right hand.

"What would you like to drink, dear?" the waitress says as though nobody was behind me.

"7-up, please," I say.

"What?" she says.

"7-up."

"Coke?"

"Yes."

I wish I would be able to pronounce 7-up like Americans.   I'm disappointed and frustrated, but I don't know what to do about it.  My brain goes into an inactive mode like a dead person.  I want to go home and take a nap.

The scene above was almost 40 years ago.  The following scene is from March 2009 at a Subway in San Dimas.  I gave an order of a six-inch Subway combo with Italian herb bread.

"No pickles, please," I say to a young female worker.

"Would you like Jalapenos?" she says to me.

"No, no Jalapeno, please," I say.

"Would you like pepper chinos?" she says picking up a few strips of yellow pickles.  She drops them on my sandwich.

"No, no.  No pickles, please."

She drops the yellow strips back into the bin.  I had the similar conversation at the place every time I went in to place my order.  I chatted with most of the workers there.  They recognized my face but not my preference of without pickles.  One day, I went there late.  I was the only customer.  I thought this was a good opportunity to explain myself if they asked me again.

"You don't like pickles, do you?" a male worker says to me with a smile.

"I love pickles, but lately I can't eat too sour foods.  It bothers my skin." I say, "Please, no pickles."

"Okay," he says smiling.  "Do you want Jalapenos?  Jalapeno is not pickles."

"No Jalapeno.  Pickles mean processed vegetables with either salted water or vinegar," I say and point to the bin of fresh cucumbers, "That's fresh cucumber slices, but over there, pickled cucumber.  You know what I mean?  Those jalapenos or pepper chinos are also pickles."

We went into more detail about pickles, and we burst into laughter.  We began using the word "family."  The family of pickles.  I thought I finally achieved my goal in communication.  But my next visit, my situation went back to the way it used to be.   

While I was writing this blog, I thought about Amy Tan's recent blog.  It was about salutations and valedictions.  As mentioned in the blog, I also felt "regards" stiff at the end of a personal email.  And by chance, I've been using "best" also, but as "Best."   Her "best" came from "best wishes," but mine came from "Best regards."  I thought this interesting.

This may not be a big deal to readers, but obviously we think a bit differently.  Because I'm not a native speaker, I probably think one word at a time and often miss some words.  Maybe, native speakers have a pictorial association of "best wishes" as in greeting cards.  Kanji (Chinese characters) users like me also have pictorial associations in our language, but my instinct tells me I probably don't have much of that in alphabet.  To me, the "best" of "best regards" or "best wishes" is the same word and gives me a similar feeling.  How about you?

I talked about cheeseburger, pickles, and best.  Now I must jump back to cheeseburger again.  I associate cheeseburger to a brilliant comedian, John Belushi.  In "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" he played a cheeseburger cook.  He shouted, "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!" no matter what customers, other cooks, or waitresses said.  I love that sketch and the John Belushi character. 

Almost forty years has passed since my cheeseburger scene.  I used to think I've made my progress.  But the pickles scene and the matter about "best" are sending me back to my original question.  No, I still cannot figure out how others think.  What do you think?

Comments
9 Comment count
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For What It's Worth

Great read, Keiko. For what it's worth, even native speakers get into trouble when one half of the conversation tries to be creative in their expression.

Oh man, I am freakin starving. Whatcha got quick?

---Everything’s quick. What’ll it be?

Greaseburger, Order of oilies.

---Want cheese on that?

Which?

---The burger.

No on the burger, yes on the fries.

---Huh?

The fries. Cheese on the fries.

---Oh. You want fries?

Yeah. Didn’t I say fries?

---You said oilies. Oilies could be anything.

What did you think I meant? I mean, what else could oilies be, exactly?

---Onion rings. Could be onion rings.

With cheese?

---You didn’t say cheese til I asked you.

Okay. Cheeseburger. Hold the cheese. Fries, oily, with cheese, please.

---Okay. Gotcha. Jeez.

And hurry up. I’m freakin starving.

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The root of the language

Ron,

This is great.  I was cracking up reading it.  I learned new words, greaseburger and oilies.  Such a conversation goes fast and cryptic while people think and feel so many things.  I envy the root of your language.  It spills like a corner of the melting cheese.  The interaction goes kind of parallel and apart, touches the base, drifts again, and at last connects.  I love it!  Like Steinbeck, the dialogue belongs to the advance study in American Literature. 

Thank you for your comment and showing to the world an American classic to be.

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Keiko and Ron., Because

Keiko, Ron.,and Ellen,

Because Portuguese and Spanish are very close languages, when Brazilians and Argentinians speak to each other (and it´s not a soccer match, when they would actually "yell" insults at each other)many times we use a hybrid that we call "Portuñol". Of course it has no rules, and the most important is to get the message through. So you can imagine the confusion that it can create sometimes. I remember when, many years ago, my husband and I met some friends from Argentina, Pablo and Marcela, for the first time.We were all, the four of us, speaking Portuñol, and each one spoke a different Portuñol,a "customized" one, at the same time. Suddenly Pablo turns to me and asks: So, Luciana what´s your apellido? (Well, apelido, in Portuguese, means nickname) I go: Lu. He goes: Lu?! Interesting. Sounds Chinese. Luciana Lu. Then I say: No, only Lu, not Luciana Lu. He looks puzzled. Then my husband starts laughing: he meant last name!!!he meant your last name, not your nickname!!! - Well, "apellido", in Argentinian Spanish means last name, surname, and "apelido" in Brazilian Portuguese means nickname. Crazy. To this day they call me Luciana Lu, just for fun. :-)

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Luciana, there's a Chinese

Luciana, there's a Chinese actress here whose name is Lucy Liu.  You look nothing alike, though.  :-)  By the way, are you related to the designer Monique Lhullier?

I'm wondering whether these hybrid forms of language arise whenever two people of different languages meet.  When I'm in France, sometimes people speak Franglais to me and vice versa.  In America, there are a lot of native speakers of Spanish, so we often merge the two languages to communicate.  Similarly, when I was in Jordan, we spoke what is called Arabizi (inglizi is phonetically how the Arab word for English sounds).  Sometimes I heard two Jordanians speaking it to each other because it makes them sound worldly and Westernized.

As you say. . .no rules, not an official language, just two people trying to communicate.

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Ellen, I don´t think I´m

Ellen, I don´t think I´m related to Monique Lhullier. I do find the clothes gorgeous, though. :-D

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Keiko, I've had to learn

Keiko, I've had to learn some other languages, too, and I've come upon similar challenges in making myself understood.

But I also find it quite beautiful how some languages are constructed and how their words translate back to English. In Samoan, for example, there are words for certain emotions that lack labels in English. When I moved back to the States from Samoa, I very much missed being able to use those words.

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No need to diet

Ellen,

It sounds as though you’ve learned a lot from Samoan culture. I think if we get certain feelings from foreign words that we can’t describe exactly in our native language, then I think we are expanding in our consciousness. Let’s keep expanding! We don’t need to diet.

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That's true, Keiko. One

That's true, Keiko.

One Samoan word that I really liked was "musu" (pronounced "moo' sue").  It described a feeling we all have from time to time, but there is no English-language equivalent.  Basically, it refers to that feeling you have when you need to go about your business, but don't want to be bothered dealing with any more people than is necessary.  It has no negative connotation in the Samoan culture.  It's just a state of being.  So, for example, if you come into work--maybe you haven't slept well the night before or maybe you just learned someone dear to you has a major illness--and you don't feel like dealing with the usual work situation but you know you need to show up and do your best, you can just let people know you are musu.  They don't ask questions, they don't bother you, they let you be without being peeved at you or wanting to poke and probe.  Everyone understands.  It's a lovely word.

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Ellen and Luciana

Ellen,

That’s interesting. When I’m attracted to the story behind a new word or the way told to me, I remember it easily. I can’t wait to use it. Muse sounds enticing.

So I made a Senryu as below. Senryu is similar to haiku but it’s casual. As you know, Haiku is made of 17 syllables, 5-7-5. Before you read, you need to know that in Japanese, “muse” means “to steam,” and “mu” means “nothing.”

Samoa musu
Musu a Japanese word
Musu musu mu

Luciana,

Hmm. I knew Portuguese and Spanish were similar, but this was the first time someone actually explained to me in the way I could relate to it. It’s fascinating. I wish I could talk to Koreans or Chinese like that even if I might have such problems. How fun that will be.