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Tray of Constipation

I arrived in the United States almost twelve years ago to attend college. By that time, I'd been studying English actively for seven years and had had once-a-week lessons for two years before that. When I arrived at school, I had a distinct accent and didn't know any of the colloquial terms kids used.

One of the first people I met in Pittsburgh was Jon, who walked up to me while I was opening a bank account with my father and gave me his phone number. I remember being baffled by his repetition of the word 'cool' during our conversation. Cool meant between cold and hot, to me; I had no idea of its other, more colloquial usage.

People used to often ask me where I came from during Freshman year. I remember when my friend Laura and I noticed that my accent disappeared if I sang. We didn't know why but it happened each time. Somewhere along the line almost all of my accent did evaporate but I have no idea why or how.

Most of the Freshmen at my school had a dining plan that confined them to one cafeteria, Highlander, for all meals. You could have unlimited food but it had to be from Highlander. I don't need to tell you how the food tasted. It appears there was a long-standing tradition with the Highlander trays: people claimed the trays for their own purposes. Each time we ate a meal, we'd real aloud our tray's owners. "Tray of the Itchy Freshman," "Tray of Late Night Phonecall." During our many trips to the cafeteria we'd laugh at the variety we'd seen.

A few months into the school year, I got "The Tray of Constipation." I was with my friend Laura and her friend Matt. I asked Laura what constipation meant. From the look of embarrassment on her face, I thought it might be something sexual so I added "You don't have to show me, just tell me," which made her laugh out loud. She tried to get Matt to explain it to me but he refused. Finally, she made the face that clarified everything.

Looking back, it seems funny that I didn't know the definition of constipation twelve years ago. My accent has since then disappeared and my vocabulary and grammar knowledge have grown exponentially. I don't know how and when the changes came about but remembering "The Tray of Constipation" always makes me laugh and realize how far I've come in this country.

June 10, 2004 | personal | share[]
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