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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Me Against The World

Today I realised why it’s so hard to be in an international school or an international student. So there I am walking with a couple of my friends after an early morning meeting that was not completely to my taste when suddenly a group of girls in front of us burst in to loud, raucous laughter. One poor girl in the centre is vigorously trying to defend herself and looking like a complete idiot. Guess what they were laughing at the girl for? Her pronunciation of the word ‘pyjamas’. OK you think some poor girl, probably non-native English speaking, couldn’t pronounce the word pyjamas. What’s the big deal? The big deal is the girl, who is from Zimbabwe by the way, pronounced pyjamas the way you would (or at least the way I think you would pronounce it). She pronounced it as pyjamas with an ‘e’ between the p and the j. The girls who laughed? They pronounced it with an ‘a’ between the p and the j. And they were laughing at her! When they asked us how we pronounced it, it was their turn to look pretty stupid and uncomfortable. The lesson? This world is too different. There are too many people with too many different types of pronunciations, accents, cultures, traditions. This doesn’t give you the simple pleasure of believing that what you know is right. You grow up thinking that driving on the left hand is the only way of life and then you come to South Africa and you are unpleasantly surprised. You grow up saying ‘perple’ and you don’t realise until the day someone asks why you pronounce the word purple wrong. The question now is do you change according to your environment or do you stick to what you know and end up in uncomfortable situations trying to explain your ways?

If I changed according to my environment would I pick up things like doing big circle dances at parties because that’s what I see my South African friends doing? If you changed would you start speaking through your nose and having your afternoon tea (English Queen’s accent) because you school in England? If I didn’t change would I still... (I take a pause here because I cannot see what Nigerians do that would seem strange to others :D) talk happily about seniors beating juniors and my own experience as both a senior and a junior to people who know that corporal punishment is a criminal law in their country? If you didn’t change at all would you still be a boy and wear skinny jeans in a country where the word skinnies hasn’t even occurred to the girls and any boy caught wearing slim fitting jeans is labelled gay? I don’t know and if you do please tell me. I guess the context matters...although sometimes I like to torture my friends with a little tale of mass caning :D.


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