As some words in English and Norwegian are close (in sound) and because my mother had a rather, umm, creative approach to mastering English, I regularly heard some odd phrases – neither Norwegian nor English.
My mother’s worst linguistic faux pas occurred in the early months of living in the U.S. Though she hated knitting, she joined a ladies knitting group so she could improve her English in a “safe” environment. One night she stood up to bid farewell to the ladies at knitting circle, and said, “Ladies, I must now go home and douche. I have to work tomorrow.” (Oh dear.) The host of that night’s circle rose, took my mother to another room and said, “Dear, I don’t know the customs of your country, but in this country, ladies simply don’t speak of douching.” My mother was thoroughly confused.
- In Norwegian, dusj simply means shower; ta en dusj means take a shower. Dusj is pronounced the same way as douche (English). My mother thought she was telling the ladies she was going to shower.
There are others:
- In English my mother would say “go cook water” which actually meant “go boil water.” She used cook because it was close to koke, Norwegian for boil. I knew she meant boil, of course, but I heard it so often the phrase stuck in my head. (Thor snickers a bit when he hears me talking about “cooking water” for tea. 🙂 )
- My mother would call people she didn’t like dusty – as in “Oh, she’s a dusty girl.” In Norwegian, dustet meant stupid or foolish. (I’ve been known to mutter, “What a dusty old man.”)
- “Wow, it’s a lot of grades outside” was her way of saying “Wow, it is hot outside.” Grad(er) = degree(s) as in temperature degrees.
- Another phrase she used that, a child, provided me hours of giggles, was “Pick up your fart.” Fart translates in English to speed or pace.
The other difficulty was that the English my mother learned in Norway was British English. (I once met her English teacher in Norway, whose spoken English sounded like Queen Elizabeth.) My mother had a difficult time with American English and preferred British English. Perhaps not surprisingly, her closest friend in the U.S. was from England. However, my mother’s friend was from Liverpool, England.
The result? My mother’s English became an odd American-Norwegian-Liverpudlian/Scouser blend. Many of my friends never understood a word my mother said, though she spoke, thanks to her English (Liverpudlian) tutor-friend, with great confidence.
It is, perhaps, no surprise that, though raised in California and educated at U.S. universities, my English (though both accentless and the language in which I am most comfortable) has sounded oddly foreign from time to time. Over the years I have been asked by curious Americans, “Where do you come from?” 🙂