I left India to make Canada my new home last year. While packing a lifetime of memories and precious belongings, there was something else for which I made space – confidence. I was confident that I would feel at home in Edmonton the moment I landed, adapt to its winter like a duck to water and, most importantly, understand this land’s “English.” After all, I had been speaking English ever since I learned Jack and Jill or “Hickory, Dickory Dock.” Unfortunately my half-full cup spilled when I unpacked my luggage and, with it, oodles of my confidence.
To say that I didn’t understand Canadian lingo at all in the beginning wouldn’t be an exaggeration. And my confidence hit its lowest when I goofed up on simple words in malls, restaurants or with my husband’s friends.
My re-learning began with the knowledge of buying double doubles with loonies and toonies, drinking pop, going to the washroom and wearing a tuque in the dead of winter. Well, in India, I would be buying a chai (we don’t have loonies and toonies), drinking Coke, going to the toilet and wearing a cap for all seasons. A serviette refers to a napkin in India and they don’t stand in a line, they stand in a queue. Meanwhile, letters are never mailed, they are posted and the phones are never busy, they are engaged!
The ability to speak clearly and confidently can make the difference between simply living in Canada and making it your home. So did I have a choice? No. You can’t when your spouse is crazy about Edmonton and your son is a born Canadian.
So, I learned: When in Canada, do as the Canadians do. I recently picked up a word – bummer. We don’t use this slang in Indo-Brit English. But thanks to my Edmontonian friend – she uses this expression 10 times a day – I’m now familiar with it. Then another thing people keep saying here is – you bet – whenever I say thank you. I now realize that it is like saying, “You’re welcome.”
So does understanding these distinctions make me a pro already? Not even close. But like my “bummer” Edmontonian friend keeps saying: “I learn one new word from you every day. You’re improving my English.”
What? Am I, eh?
Rashmi Kumar comes from New Delhi, India. Her debut novel, Stilettos in the Newsroom, was published in 2010, and has sold 80,000 copies so far. Her second book, tentatively titled, Stilettos in the Men’s Room, is a humorous look at arranged marriages in India. Kumar moved to Edmonton after her own arranged marriage with her husband, Nikhil. They live here with their five-month-old son, Ayaan.