Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bean American

As I have stated previously in this space, and I only exaggerate slightly when I say this, I only live a stone's throw away from the good, old US of A. But what a difference a border makes. We speak with different accents and have different words for the same things. For example: Canadians eat chocolate bars, not candy bars; we drink pop, not soda.

When daughter #2 was young, we hosted two American girls from a city not very far from the border. The wee dears were thunderstruck to realize that we buy milk in bags (if we so choose), and when we treated them to our delicious fries at the bridge, they were aghast at the thought of putting vinegar on fries. All in all, they didn't seem to much care for these wonderful fries, probably thinking that they weren't like McDonald's fries. Pity that.

Just the other day, I decided to try a new chili recipe. It was from an American cookbook that is sold ubiquitously here in the Great White North. Consequently, I set out to find three kinds of beans: pinto, great northern, and red kidney. The red kidney beans were tracked easily enough, but I searched in vain for the other two. It was pretty darn exasperating. It is just as well that I walked into the store without much hair because, had I had any, I would have yanked it all out in frustration.

Anyway, after unloading the groceries that I was able to purchase that day, I decided to Google beans. I was thinking that maybe we might call them by different names here. A very unusual thing occurred. I was right! Not that I could find synonyms on the Net, but at least I was able to find photos. Armed with my newly-informed, Google, knowledge, I was able to track down what seem to be the equivalent Canadian versions by trying to match the photos of pinto and great northern beans with pictures on our local cans.

From what I can tell, American pinto beans are romano beans here in Canucklestan. And great northern beans sure look a lot like what passes for white kidney beans here. Regardless, I bought them, cooked them, and results were pretty darn tasty; so even if I was wrong, the recipe turned out right. Bravo for me!

So you see, I don't fully grasp American English. Oh, we are pretty aware up here; we have a basic understanding of most Americanisms because we glue ourselves to American media. But TV programs and movies don't really tell you beans about the important things like … well … like beans.

This type of thing has happened before. Take DUI (driving under the influence) and Q&D (quick and dirty) for example. These little acronyms were simply not part of this poor, dumb Canucklehead's lexicon and required explication by Americans who must have thought me terribly dumb. We also tend to sign our "John Henry" not our "John Hancock", both terms being highly confusing to my brand new son-in-law whose first language is not English.

Well, I'm sure you get my point by now, and just as I have the occasional difficulty with lingo American, I have also had a frightfully difficult time trying to understand Americans as a people over the past few days. You see, it's really hard for most folk of other countries to even begin to fathom how the vote could have gone the way it did.

Let me just say that I am making some progress. I think that these folk are tremendously misguided, but, having listened and pondered, I think I can at least begin to fathom some of the reasons why so many Americans arrived at the decision that they did. Personally, I think they are guilty of very fuzzy thinking, but I really don't want to get sidetracked into explicating all of that right now as I'm trying (and it's hard) to keep this particular piece non-political. Besides, the election is being explored in great detail in all sorts of places by those much better informed than this poor plod.

One thing I do want to say is that I think Americans are absolutely wonderful people. They are warm, open, friendly, and hospitable. I think that I can honestly say that I've never met an American whom I haven't liked. And now that I know beans as it were, hard as it is, I am working at trying to understand how and why many of them think and vote the way that they do.

Isn't that the important thing: to do our best to understand each other?



-epm said...

On a recent sojourn in New Brunswick on our way to Cape Breton, my wife, daughter and I stopped at a little diner for a small supper.

As soon as I stepped through the door I was thrown back in time some thirty years. The waitress with in her hairnet and slightly dingy, ill-fitting pink uniform. The pensioners, he in a workshirt, Dickies and boots and she in a simple blue dress and white crocheted sweater who's buttons I'm sure couldn't be mated to their holes across her broad granny boosom. The fading photos of proud sportsmen posing with their quarry of fish and deer. And finding the non-smoking section was much a possibility as finding a gravity free zone.

The menu was the sandard diner fare of fried foods and sandwiches, and I easilly went with the fish and chips right away. My daughter, being sixteen and far more health conscious than I, went for the turkey sandwich with cheese.

Now, I don't think of us as terribly cosmopolitan family, but it turns out we have been spoiled by our own prosperity. As with your beans example, we have to have choices, varieties of everything, from beans, to tomatoes, to cheese. So Dorothy, in her naive ignorance of simplicity, couldn't decide what kind of cheese she wanted on her sandwich: should she have Swiss, or mozarella... or maybe a nice sharp provalone. Faced with this maddening decision she turned to the waitress and asked, "What kind of cheese do you have?"

The waitress looked up from her order pad and paused for a curious and confussed moment, as if not knowing how to answer. She quickly recovered and replied simply: "Sliced."

I didn't ask what kind of coffee they had. I'm sure it would be: "Hot"

Anvilcloud said...

Edvardicus: oh you must be wrong. Didn't you hear Bush claim that he had an absolute mandate to do whatever he wants? That surely must mean at least a 60/40 split. lol

EPM: Aren't you glad that places like this still exist? We were in NB several years ago, and I may have gone to that very diner. Loved it.

Anvilcloud said...

Oh, please tell me that you had poutine. One must have poutine from Quebec at least once in one's life. Poutine would have been a fine example for my blog, or do you have that dish there now?

You know? One comment that I was going to put in my blog is that Americans should get out more often --- as in out of the country. I think that you guys, with your views, are rather proof that travel is, indeed, broadening. I guess that's no great revelation, but sometimes we need to be reminded of things that we know. I need more and more reminidng as time goes on.

Anonymous said...

Great post and oh so true. Amazing how the same things seem to be divided by the border. Another few I can think of are frankfurters and hotdogs or pancakes and flapjacks. Glad to hear the chili worked out.


Anonymous said...

*light bulb* That's why I haven't been able to find pinto beans! It figures that your post comes along to enlighten me when I only have three weeks left here. ;c)

By the way, Edvardicus - Canadian literature is also some of the best in the French-speaking world (I'm thinking Michel Tremblay and Gaetan Soucy here at the moment). Vive le bilinguisme [officiel] - another difference between here (Montreal) and home (Boston/L.A.). *grin*


Mick said...

We also eat chocolate bars and drink pop in the UK. I am trying to teach my better half, who is Dutch, the difference between English and US English. Time after time I am beaten back by American TV programmes and their influence on future European pronuciation and usage of the English language. Of course Europe has a choice whether to say effectiveness or effectivity, cookie or cake and Errrbs or herbs. We have local disputes over the pronunciation of the simple scone here in Yorkshire. Where I live we say scone as in stone, but 20 km up the road they say scone as in gone and even say stone as in gone. Sometimes their scons are as hard as stons!

Dee said...

I may not have learned about vinegar on fries if my husband had not spent some time in canada and even he did not tell me about them til my youngest told me some of her canadian college friends told her about it and she started doing it. I love it now. Malt vinegar goes on my fries.

I have met some wonderful canadian people and I can tell you all I have met are very laid back and friendly......except the the one I met from quebec. She was nice but her husband was from what she referred to as the Language police and he did not want her corresponding to me in English. This was in the early nineties and we had been tape pals for several years. Till he found out...