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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Same English word, different Canadian meaning

Most educated Indians believe they know English. We study in English-medium schools, some of us in what are called convents (and there’s a story there, too, but I’ll come that in a bit!), and are fluent in English.

We were no different, but there’s English and then there’s Canadian English, as we were to discover after moving to Canada.

Many words that are in common usage in “Indian English” either do not exist in Canadian English, or have a totally different connotation.

I was looking for thermocol at an office supplies store to pack a few things.

When I couldn’t find any, I asked a sales associate for help, but he had no idea what I was talking about.

“It’s white, like a hard sponge...used to pack things like computers, etc.” I said, trying to make him understand.

Much gesticulating and scratching of head later, it dawned.

“Oh. Styrofoam! Sorry, sir, we don’t carry any, try a packaging supplies place,” he said.

I left the store without thermocol, but armed with a new name for it.

Many words tripped us up in our early days, but just to give you an idea, here are a few that caused confusion on shopping trips.

Ask for a drawing pin and you are likely to draw a blank. It’s called a thumbtack here.

There’s no such thing as a drawing room – there are living rooms or there are family rooms.

What we call pastries in India are called cupcakes here, and tomato sauce is ketchup.

But the one that caused the most embarrassment was rubber.

That’s what we called that thing that we used to erase anything drawn or written in pencil, what we rubbed out a mistake with. But rubbers are called erasers here.

And guess what are rubbers? Condoms.

So you can imagine the expression on the lady’s face when I stopped her in the stationery aisle at a busy department store and asked her to show me where the rubbers were.

Oh, and convent schools? That should be missionary schools.

A convent is where the nuns are.

– Shreyas Bhatt

Posted: Apr 3, 2013

June 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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