When we moved to Tennessee in 1998 we bought a house in the rural area, away from the Navy base. Our first neighbors were born and bred Southerners and gave me my first dose of the language barriers that would show themselves from time to time throughout our stay here.
Our neighbors had a six month old baby daughter and when her mom and I would discuss baby Emily, her mom would always say, "she's a mess." I would look at this sweet little girl, clean hands, clean face and clean clothes, and think to myself, " her mother doesn't know what she's talking about. She looks perfectly clean to me." Translation: describing anyone as a "mess" is an affectionate term to describe ......I'm still not sure what, but all who use it, say it with love.
The second terminology that took about three years to understand would be the term " coke" to describe any flavor of pop (soda). When we would be visiting friends or neighbors and be offered a "coke" I would politely decline because it's not my favorite. A few minutes later I would see someone with say a Sprite or a Dr. Pepper and think, " well I would have had one of those!"
Since I've been working in a community hospital, employed by mostly Southerners and the patients the same, I have found that there still is more terminology that gets lost on me.
For example, when I am leaving a patient's room and ask them if they would like me to shut the lights off when I leave, I get a look of total perplexity as the patient, usually elderly and hard of hearing ( I assume)stares at me. So I lean in closer and say loudly, "WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TURN THE LIGHT OFF?" They still look at me like I have three heads. By this time, my coworker will hear me shouting down the hall, come in, ask what's wrong, and I'll explain what the issue is and so they will laugh and in a normal tone, say to the patient, "want your light CUT off? To which the patient quickly says, "oh yes, yes." Go figure! I like to say their Southern ears can't understand by Northern accent, but really, CUT a light off?
Tonight, when my shift started and I was making rounds with the day nurse, I asked the patient, "Do yo need anything?"
To which the patient replied, "A chicken breast."
I stood there a second wondering how I could get her a chicken breast and started to tell her the cafeteria was already closed, when I decided to ask her again, "Do you need anything?"
"Oh," she said, "I thought you asked me if I 'd eaten anything?"
Now that was Northern sounds on Southern ears.
By the way, no, she didn't need anything.