Friday, August 15, 2008


Languages are absolutely funny. So are the cultural differences. That, if looked at with the right perspective.

My boss casually asked me if there is a way to differentiate names of Indian males and females. Her personal experience of embarrassing herself in many a meeting must have prompted her to ask. I thought for a while and told her "Maybe you can understand like this. If a name ends with a vowel, 90% of the times it'd be that of a female. And if not, the name must be of a male". She smiled and said “Oh….that’s easy!” and in 2 seconds she asked "But the guys working at offshore team Hari and Ravi aren’t males? Their names end with vowels" I smiled back and replied "Their full names are Hariharan and Ravichandran. We came up with short ones for you to easily remember and you gotta know that this 'vowels-logic' does not apply for short names" She quickly said "Ohh…ok. I sort of get it now. And I’ll remember that" Appeared like she bought the idea. Good for me. Then, she asked "Hey Arun, what was the new offshore resource you said would be joining us?" I said the name and she inadvertently mispronounced it. No surprise. And I let it go, as most of the Indian names are a little difficult to be pronounced anyways.

One of my other colleagues standing next to me tried to show what a smarty-pants he is. He corrected her by saying how the name should be correctly pronounced. She mispronounced it again and he said “You are wrong. That’s not how the name should be pronounced”. My boss calmly said "Oh, my pronunciation is wrong?! How about the English that you folks speak? Can we talk about that for a while?" I was almost laughing, as I know where this is heading towards. She looked at me and continued "You know Arun, the other day this gentleman here told me that he went to a shop called waaaalmart. I thought this must be a new shop in this area and I told I’ll go check it out sometime. It took more than 5 minutes for me to figure out he was actually talking about Wal-Mart (which she actually pronounced as w-u-a-l-m-a-r-t or to be exact, w-u-a-l-m-a-zh-t)". I know we guys are used to British English and pronunciations in US English are a little different. It was funny how much my boss stressed over the pronunciations of Wal-Mart and other such words.

Of course desis are much better, most can speak decent English. But other Asians amaze me. Especially Chinese people, who get most of their basic education in mandarin (that, if they had their childhood in china), not know a bit of English and still survive in Uncle Sam’s land. Earlier, I used to live in a neighborhood called Flushing in New York and that's almost considered a 'mini china town'. Most of the shops and hoardings will be in Chinese and everything ranging from cuisine to lifestyle would be directly or indirectly related to China. Most of my ex-colleagues would even make fun by asking me if I need a Chinese visa to get into the area. Many a time I have been to shops, where if the shop-keeper sees a Non-Chinese enter, he'll immediately wave both his hands and start 'No English No English' in his own funny way. One can do nothing but smile and step out slowly.

For many days, I thought the old lady in the Chinese eat-out near my house was a little crazy. She always muttered something like "habanadha" whenever I left the place. I thought she was scorning at me, till one of my friends found the secret and told me she was actually wishing me by saying "have a nice day". The old lady indeed was not crazy.

Too many non-English speaking people in an English speaking country make the place a little crazy. That too is funny, if looked at with the right perspective.


Nandini Vishwanath said...

Laaaaaaaaang post this is. Good, good. I remember a colleague of mine who called another colleague whose name was Brian as Brain. I dunno how she never got it. It wasn't funny at all!

And the expats called Nitin More as Mr. Mor (Tamil pronuciation!)

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Laaaaaaaaang post this is. Good, good. I remember a colleague of mine who called another colleague whose name was Brian as Brain. I dunno how she never got it. It wasn't funny at all!

And the expats called Nitin More as Mr. Mor (Tamil pronuciation!)

Anonymous said...

Hehe, I notice how you stress on "when looked at with the right perspective" :p

The "Asians" surprise me. One of the TAs I had for a course mailed first day of the semester-"You should submit the homeworks electrically". :|

Check this out!

Anonymous said...

You really think less and write more don't you?

chutneycase said...

I dont understand why everyone pounces on Indian English. It's not our language! To hell with wazhlmazht. We'll say waaalmarrrtu only. I'd like to see them say vaazhapazham. :P

Anonymous said...

Within Indian English we have the North -South divide. ;)

The most common ones by the North Indians are: peeppaal (people), mattteerial (material), etc

Nammalunga: motaRR (motor), aaaracle (oracle)
Within the South Indians, you have this mallu's way of speaking!

And many of my relatives in my native can never pronounce my name properly!!


maxdavinci said...

I have heard over 30 ways to pronounce my last name, but I do get irritated when some desis try to correct others!

♥bμşγ-ŵŗϊŧēŕ♥ said...

My mum has a friend called Mabel. This cab driver of theirs calls her Mobel. LOL.

Anotgher realllly funny thing, usually with the north indians is the pronounciation of SMS.. they say it like ASS-AM-ASS .. ROFL!

Idling in Top Gear said...

I once heard a couple of Gult neighbors trying to tell the Pizza Hut phone operator that they wanted Jaalapeeno peppers on their pizza. I corrected them, "a-la-penyo, dude." "enti?" "a-la-penyo." They didn't understand what I was trying to tell them.

Of course, with Asians accents are always funny. My Ops Mgt professor once asked, "if you take a plane from NY to DC, and you have to stop at Pizzaburger or Austin, where would you stop?" The guys were like "Austin or where?" "Pizzaburger" 3 tries later we knew she was trying to say Pittsburgh.

Once a Taiwanese guy told me that since there are so many sounds in Chinese, if you can pronounce all Chinese syllables, you can speak any language in the world. "Except English." I corrected him :)

Cess said...

Hey, I used to work in a call center with british customers and some pain in a ass were upset when they were routed to the Bangalore call center because of the accent some might have, the thing that I learned here in Ireland is that Indian have a much much much better english than me frenchy have but my accent is not as strong as the indian accent, but anyway some british customer were still a pain in a ass with me too ;(

Rayees Ahamed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayees Ahamed said...

hehehe , language na apdi thaan boss.

Chennai slang of tamil itself is very different from the rest right. Pronunciation is one thing which many people mix their native mother slang. many south indians pronounce some thing like, Comingaa ?, goingaa ? i have onnu doubtu etc.,

On the other hand , it is also interesting to translate something literally word to word from one language to other, like the following phrases which sound normal in English, may sound nasty in Tamil, 'pissed off','pain in the ass','Smells like ass' etc.,

Ela said...

It's hard for foreigners to pronounce Indian names....that too my family name is still was funny to see one of the professor practising my family name for half a day since he had to introduce me to give a talk in the conference....When he met me, he said with such a pain that he had been practising to pronounce my name for a long time and by that time he had got the first name ok and was quite releived when i said to him that he can use the short form of my first name, so that he can concentrate on my family name...

Once it also happened that i visited the doctor and when the receptionist called out a name, i could not recognise that it was mine....i just sat there and after the third call, was aware that the name being called sounded kind of familiar and then figured out it was me they were calling!

Meena Venkataraman said...

hahahaha.. good post!
heard quiet a few..
Saaaaaaaaar (Sir)
Beer (Bear)
Hair (Here)

Meena Venkataraman said...

There was this funny manager i used to work for.. who once reffered to Santa Claus as Santa Clara.... ROFL ROFL... !!

Prashanth said...

Tell ur manager that she has not even seen the tip of the iceberg... phrases or sentences as "that like not boy" as still doing rounds!

Whts wrong I say? You correct my mistakes and I correct urs (If wonly you are in good terms)

Zeppelin said...

i think there is an episode in 'Everybody Loves Raymond' where Ray tells the exact same thing to Debra or somebody else... or was it Seinfeld?

Boy! I am watching too much TV! :)

Arun Sundar said...

How else would you call More? Mor'ey?

Electrically??!! too!!

I hardly think. Yaa, yet I write more.

No no my boss did not pounce. She is namma katchi. She just highlighted in her own funny style as to how difficult it is to pronounce something thats not in one's native language. Neenga kova padaatheenga.


Whats your last name btw? davinci?! Sorry, couldnt resist :)

Arun Sundar said...

Busy writer,
ASS-AM-ASS??? Best!!

"Enti" had me in splits!! :)

I have heard a lot of funny stories about the call centers and the associated 'angry' customers too. British people are anyways a little tough I reckon.

Coming'a and going'a are inherent to tamils. We just cant live without it :)

"Ela" isnt all that difficult. And whats your family name? I thot southies dont have surname - instead only dad's name right?

lol....'Saaaar' is very common though :)

Arun Sundar said...

If I say "that like not woman", my boss would crush me to death with her palm. Am 110% sure :)

Not that I know of, but googling tells me that the same word comes in one of the episodes of ELR. Man, you do watch a lot of TV :)
(But who said Ray doesn't think like me?!)

Coconut Chutney said...

Lol, no tension thala. I'm just general-la saying.

Ela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arun Sundar said...

General-la saying'na wogay.

Hmmmm..'Frau' is it?? Nyaabagam vechukkarein, engayaavadhu eduthu udalaam.

WT said...

lol@ w-u-a-l-m-a-zh-t. and the chinese/taiwanese call it... something in lines of waahmaah.:D

Preeti said...

Haha...nice one this...habanadha...i worked with i TOTALLY get it...helped that i knew jap or id be as clueless as they were here :D

Aquarius said...

Lol ,Like the way you write.Came across your blog while surfing. I too butcher the english language and am sure these brits cringe when i do it.

Carry on the good work.