Tuesday, August 19, 2008


"Please, what?" they would say when I first moved to a new city. In Cincinnati, where I was raised, the German immigrants had contributed a bit of the Motherland to the English language. Please meant excuse me, I didn't hear you, or if you live where I live now, WHAT??? But in Cincinnati, everyone said please as a polite way of asking someone to repeat what they just said. Transplanted to a new environment, no one knew what I meant and I was forced to drop a little part of my German heritage, a small line to my German grandfather, Karl (pictured left).

On my desk sits a photo of my great-grandmother, Teresa, mother of Karl. She is very old in the photo, toothless and wrinkled. When I look at the photo, I wonder what she was like, and how she could stand that her son lived an ocean away in another world. In those days, moving to America meant likely she'd not see him again. How could she have let go, stood such a loss? What did she think when he became an American soldier, fighting against Germany?

Now, our world is much different. People blend, move, travel with ease. Teresa sits in a wicker chair, waiting likely for a letter carried for weeks by boat. We can communicate instantly in a myriad of ways. Still, small messages come from our past in how we simply ask "Please?"


pita-woman said...

I'm an "excuse me?" kind of person vs. "please", unless I'm being lazy, then it's "do what?"

You sound like me... I keep a photo of my great-grandparents on my desk as well. I love looking at the old family photos, wondering what they were thinking, how hard/easy there life was then compared to ours now. Did they marry because they were in love?, an arrangement?, out of necessity?

whitetr6 said...

Mom recalls a few times early on in her married life, as a Barbados native transplanted in Loveland OH, being offended - it might go something like this:

Mom: do you have this book?

Cincinnati librarian: Please?

Mom, exasperated: do you have this book, PLEASE?

You can imagine the confusion :-)

Interestingly, I think this is the first time I've seen an explanation of the phenomenon, but I can't say I've ever really looked into it. Makes perfect sense though.

Gotta go, I'm craving some goetta.

Robin said...

The South Africans that work for us will always say "Pardon?" if they need something repeated...shortened version of "I beg your pardon but I didn't understand you, could you repeat that please?!"

I prefer please, excuse me, pardon or even "what" over "huh?".

Lazy english ain't no kinda way ta live!

Arby said...

My wife is 6,722 miles away, and we e-mail multiple times every day. It's amazing.

Flock Fold Kids said...

I love the art of letter writing from the old movies and stories. E-mail has revolutionized our society, but sometimes the emails are so impersonal and terse. I am guilty of both. Great post! Thanks for sharing!


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