I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the whole lunch, tea, dinner, supper terminology. In my family we also call the largest meal of the day ‘dinner,’ hence ‘Thanksgiving dinner,’ ‘Sunday dinner,’ etc. But for the most part this is in the evening. To label your child’s school meal ‘dinner’ seems quite dismal to me. If those foodstuffs that they glopped onto plastic trays were the grandest meal of my day, I’d have concluded that life is a dreary toil at a much younger age than I did.* This would have been especially disheartening on those dreaded days when I forgot to consult the cafeteria calendar and thus came to the horrifying realization that I should have asked Mum to pack me a lunch because it was…
Fish stick day.
Generally this realisation would descend around ten o’ clock when the stench would waft down the school corridors…
D’oh! Forehead slap!
I had no other choice than to relinquish a yellow ticket from my ration book for…that.
In a land whose seafood knows no comparison, the cafeteria factory still cranked out perfectly rectangular prisms of some unidentifiable white mush wrapped in gritty breading. How could they ruin breading, for heaven’s sakes? A wheat product deep fried. What could possibly go wrong there? And yet it did. And does, for that matter. Those fumes still drift across many a primary school campus even to this day.
It wasn’t as though these putrid fish substitutes were tossed out as a token gesture to any Catholics that might’ve gone to my school. If they had been, then there would have been the hope that the polluting odour would have abated over the weekend, rather than tortured us throughout the rest of the school week. No, fish sticks were not served on Fridays and for a good reason. Friday was pizza day. Should the hair netted ladies have ever attempted to dislodge this tradition, there would have been such mutiny that even the BBC would’ve given a passing mention of ‘The Great Uprising at Gladys Wood Elementary School.’
Now, when I say ‘pizza’ let me be clear that this is a purely euphemistic term for the rectangular, floppy things coated with a ‘tomato’ (and I use that word loosely) sauce that likely came from the same recipe as Spaghetti O’s. These were also liberally sprinkled with pepper flavoured rabbit droppings that I imagine were passed off as ‘sausage’ crumbles.
Let me also add that this was to be accompanied by chocolate milk. The one shining day of something beyond white 1%. Nowadays these little knee biters get a choice of white, chocolate, and strawberry every blasted day. (No wonder we are raising up a generation of unappreciative and entitled twits.) If fate beamed down on us especially brightly, the milk cartons would’ve just come off the trucks on that winter’s day and the milk would still have frozen chunks. Ahh…a frosty, chocolate dream.
But speaking of tinned food substitutes, (Yes, I was speaking of it. It is in the second paragraph just above. Spaghetti O’s. Pay attention.), and also continuing the debate over lunch, dinner, tea, and supper…
I must say I was quite shocked to discover that over there, you all can dump a can of Van Camp’s over a piece of toast and call it a proper meal. Really? And you think we’re classless and tasteless? You don’t get any more white trash than that. If you’re going to descend that far, then you ought to round out that ‘meal’ with a nice dish of green gelatine suspending multi-coloured marshmallows. And also possibly a three bean salad. Or at the very least, coleslaw.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking beans n’ ham, but if you are going to serve them, they must be in the triangular wedge of your paper picnic plates that are precariously balancing fried chicken in the larger and more esteemed section. Mash potatoes are in the other smaller wedge, or at least, they were supposed to be, but as you walk over to a lawn chair, much of everything slides dangerously close to the edge and drips on your shoes (or shirt, depending on your luck and girth) and coats that fresh, crispy triangle of watermelon with warm sludge. @#$!
West Coast Dialects of American
I was raised in the Pacific Northwest which is completely accent free. Anything else is a deviation from proper (albeit sometimes hick) elocution. (Rather like my house has no smell whatsoever, being a perfectly neutral non-smell, whereas most other homes—yours even—have a decided scent.) Over here, we have no accent. (By which I mean that we speak pure, unadulterated American.) Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this fact, so I was exposed to some ‘correction’ during my school days.
I remember the first episode quite clearly that came upon me in kindergarten. My aunt had visited for the week and then flew back to Seattle so I confided in my tablemate that ‘I miss my aunt.’ As I’m sure you have ascertained by now, I did not pronounce this word as you would. Apparently my ‘friend’ (I did rethink this category later), was from another region ‘outside.’ So his reply, rather than being sympathetic, was:
“Oh, you miss your ant? What happened? Did you step on her?”
Mortified, I fell silent and slapped my paper with more of that cold, lumpy, mint scented paste and vowed to never, ever refer to my mother’s sister as an /ă/nt. No, I now and forever will say /ah/nt, even though the rest of my family considers me affected for doing so.
Others seem to find my pronunciation of ‘route’ as affected and amusing as well. However, I remain firm that it is spoken as ‘root’ like ‘shoot.’ One only has to listen to the extended dance mix of Depeche Mode’s ‘You’re Behind the Wheel’ to know this.**
I was very lovingly corrected in my vocabulary for carbonated beverages and so still call them ‘soda’ despite having returned to the land where these are referred to as ‘pop.’
Did these snobby, Eastern ‘American’ classmates never see the Shasta commercial?
“Don’t give me that so-so-soda, that same old cola!
I wanna a rock and rolla’!
I want a POP!
I was again mocked by an Eastern transplant. (Remember, when I say ‘Eastern’ I am referring in a blanketed generalization to anyone east of the Mississippi, be it Wisconsin, Chicago, New York, whatever. They’re all the same to me. Judgmental outsiders. With an accent.)
My best friend burst out laughing when he heard my pronunciation of an ‘ag’ word. According to him, ‘bag’ should be pronounced ‘Baa-ug.’ Or something like that. I never could quite replicate it so even to this day I tend to skirt around the whole issue by referring to grocery receptacles as ‘sacks.’ Although this alternative has its risks as well. This was brought to my attention by a colleague who was teaching in a bilingual classroom. He spoke English fluently but he did have a trace of an accent, so one day he appealed to me.
“I was trying to teach my students plural forms of nouns. Could you please tell me…what is the proper way to say the plural form of ‘sack?’ Because whenever I try to say it, to me it sounds too much like…”
I had to admit that if the word was spoken quickly and out of context, it did rather sound like…
As an aside, the aforementioned dilemma was not, in fact, brought to light with the word ‘bag’. It was an entirely different word that began with another consonant and no, I was not asking for a cigarette.
Speaking of which, if an American wishes to sponge off of someone he/she would ‘bum a cigarette’ from a smoker. Yes, yes, stop tittering like a thirteen year old. Although, it would be rather amusing if some Yank decided to be cute and mix his slang.
“Ah. So what you’re saying is, you want to ___ a ___?”***
His English companion would choke and splutter.
“Good Heavens! What are you talking about?? Let me make myself clear. I have an intense need for nicotine and I was wondering if you could perhaps help me out.”
*Because it is a dreary toil, but children should have the brief illusion that it is otherwise until reality inescapably descends, at say the ripe old age of fifteen.
**English chaps singing, ‘Get your kicks, on route sixty-six.’
***Think about it.