Lost in translation

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Lost in translation

Some adventures may give you the greatest thrill but they can also take you further from home. This is the sad story of a happy immigrant. With pangs of guilt and grief, I stepped out of my nest in search of a new quest. And as I tried to build a life on another soil, I encountered many pits to fall into, many moments to take delight and many mysteries to unravel. I’m glad immigration happened to me because if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have an interesting life to write about!

My American odyssey is marked by great sightings and awesome findings. Having come to the United States before me, my husband’s journey has been even more profound and adventurous. His ‘American Diary’ also has many funny incidences, office jokes and some hilarious lost in translation moments. It’s fun to turn the pages and re-visit them, and what else but have a good laugh again and again.

Here are some snippets from my husband’s personal journal.

“There’s a hole in the wall”

I had gone to Kodak’s head office in Rochester with my manager. Rochester is a cold place and we were there in peak winters. We were trying to find a place to eat and since she was more familiar with the city, she suggested that we go to this small hole in the wall place. Without much thought I reacted and said, “won’t it be too cold to eat if this place has a hole in the wall?” She could not stop laughing. Later she explained that ‘hole in the wall’ wasn’t really a hole but an expression that meant it’s not a fancy place.

“Can I have a fag please?”

This one I remember so vividly especially because of the expression on the store manager’s face. I was vey new to the US then. Once, I ran out of cigarettes and went to a nearby gas station to buy a pack. An old white guy sat behind the counter. I went to him and said, “Can I have a fag please?”. He went red and stared at me. I thought he did not follow me so once again I said, “fag please” but this time I signaled with two fingers as if I was holding a cigarette. I guess he understood what I meant and muttering to self, he handed me a pack. I was startled by his behavior but later I came to know why. Fag to us in India means cigarette but in the US it meant gay!

“Kludge messed it up”

I was with Kodak and was working on an issue with high visibility. I had been troubleshooting this issue for days, and finally…a breakthrough!!! Not only did I figure out the code but also the name of the person responsible for our misery. I printed it all out and stormed into my boss’s room so that we could deal with this person. I gave her the paper and asked, “Who is this Kludge, he really messed up the code!”. My boss, an American, looked at me and chuckled real hard. She then said, “Don’t worry I will deal with Kludge.” It was much later she explained that ‘Kludge’ was not a person; it was slang for ‘workaround’ or ‘something to make things work for now.’

“When I say no, I mean yes”

We Indians, tend to nod our head side-to-side when we say ‘yes’, which actually means ‘no’ here in America. I have had several lost in translation moments with this. Whether it is with the server at a restaurant asking me if I want to drink something or when my boss questioning if we can do this in time, and she would say, “your mouth says yes but your head says no, which one is it?” Soon enough she caught on that when I say no, I mean yes.

And do I have such funny moments from my own life? Most certainly I have. But I think I’ll keep my share of stories for some other day.

Immigration is a fun-filled sport, and I like playing it. Only wished it was closer to home!

By |May 8th, 2013|NRI|6 Comments


  1. Hinz August 1, 2014 at 6:27 am - Reply

    hey there …Am new to this site. Not sure how you go about socialising – any one to help ?

  2. VIWA May 21, 2013 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    @ Roh – You confused them too! I can only imagine the American’s position, and yours too. 🙂

    @ TheGoodWife – Why don’t you share your funny stories here…

    @ Julie_Ind – Oh, they are interesting and funny.

  3. Julie_Ind May 18, 2013 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Interesting story…

  4. TheGoodWife May 18, 2013 at 8:36 am - Reply

    You nailed it girl! We all have so many such funny moments to share, Indian tongue and American tongue confusion is always there.

  5. roh May 17, 2013 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    Ah!! the yes and no moment is something I can totally relate to. During a conference, the guest lecturer (from US) asked us whether we understood what he was saying or should he repeat the slides again. We having got what he was lecturing would nod side to side(obviously meaning yes) but the poor fella thought we had said no..and he kept repeating the slides again and again.. and we became so furious that we had to tell him to stop.

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