Like many people from India, I was used to saying, “Hello, Ram on this side,” at the start of a phone conversation, when I called someone.
Anyone who has seen the movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi will get this. Shah Rukh Khan did a great take on this in the film, but honestly, had I not been out of India for a few years when the movie was released, I would not have got the joke. That was just the way I – and almost everyone I knew – spoke!
Until we came to Canada.
Where, in the course of the first few phone interactions, I became very conscious of my accent because I thought people were going, “Sorry?” or “What was that?” because of a thick accent I had hitherto been unaware of.
I had been confident of my language skills.
After all, I had studied at a prestigious school and university and we spoke English at home, but the obvious difficulty people were having with my phone conversation had me wondering if I needed help with English.
One day, at the community centre where I used to go to work on my resumé, send out job applications and call numbers listed in job postings, a settlement worker enlightened me.
“Ram,” she began kindly, “why do you always say, ‘On this side’ when you call people?”
“Because I want them to know it’s Ram calling,” I explained, a little confused at the question.
“Yes, I get that, but why do say, ‘On this side’?” she asked again.
“Because I’m on this side, not on that side,” I said, wondering if she was the confused one.
“Don’t you think they know that?” she asked with a smile. “When you say ‘On this side’, people here hear it as ‘Ram on the side,’ like in a salad dressing!”
And that day not only did I learn a new way to start a conversation, I also learned to order salad dressing on the side!
– Ram Agnihotri
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