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Thursday, June 19, 2008

You say tomato...

I don't know if there is a statute of limitations on holding back embarrassing information about friends and posting it on the Internet.  But I've been sitting on this particular gem for about a year now and I feel like enough time has passed that most people who could connect this incident with a particular individual will probably have forgotten the connection by now.  Or not.

Oh who am I kidding?  Anyone who heard this first hand (or even second hand), has it indelibly burned into their memory and knows exactly who I'm talking about.  But I'm still going to withhold the names to (sort of) protect the innocent.

A friend of ours, who is arguably one of the most modest, aidel (gentle) and innocent people I know, was working for an Israeli religious educational institution that primarily recruits from among very observant high school aged girls from the US and Canada.

One of our friend's jobs while working for this school was to travel to communities around North America speaking about the merits of this particular school, and interviewing potential students for admission.

At one particular stop on one of his speaking tours, our friend found himself in an auditorium of a rather right-wing religious community, speaking to a large group of potential students and their parents.  His prepared remarks went well and he was feeling quite confident as he easily fielded some of the more common questions about the physical layout of the school and dormitories, as well as some more challenging ones about the school's hashkafa (guiding philosophy). 

Then a young girl stood up and asked what should have been a fairly easy one:

"Is there a dress code?"

I say 'easy' because our friend was prepared for the question and knew exactly how he wanted to answer.  His response was designed to strike just the right balance between school mandated religious decorum (tzniut) and allowing the students enough autonomy to make individual decisions on attire. 

What he meant to say was something along the lines of "Look, we assume a certain level of maturity in our students so we don't have a firm dress code per se.  But at the same time we don't want the girls dressing too informally in the Beit Midrash (study hall)".

He actually got the first part of that thought out the way he wanted... but the second half fell victim to his having grown up in New England where we have different words for some things, like say, articles of foot-wear, than the rest of the country.  What came out of his mouth was:

"...but at the same time we'd prefer that the girls didn't wear thongs in the Beit Midrash."

I'm told you could have heard a pin drop in the audience as that little gem echoed around the stunned room full of black hats, floor-length skirts and wigs.  It wasn't until sometime later that someone took our friend aside and gently informed him that not everyone referred to those rubber 'flip-flop sandals as 'thongs'.

[A request: If you know who this is about DO NOT give any indication of it in the comments section!  We love him dearly and this anecdote is only funny because it is related about an anonymous gentle, wise, frum yid who still probably blushes when he thinks about making such a public gaffe.]

Posted by David Bogner on June 19, 2008 | Permalink

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Oh, that is priceless! I've heard a similar one. A foreign exchange student I know asked a classmate for a rubber. She meant an eraser...

And please don't take offense, but I think the last word you mean to use is gaffe, is it not? I'm not a native speaker of English, so please excuse me if i'm wrong.

Posted by: Naomi | Jun 19, 2008 1:39:59 PM

Naomi... Thank you. As I just got done telling one of my volunteer proofreaders; I rely upon the kindness of friends and strangers alike to keep from looking like an illiterate simpleton.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 19, 2008 2:42:37 PM

Oh, that's hysterical. How I wish that I could have been there!

Posted by: Raizy | Jun 19, 2008 3:12:16 PM

Hysterical. And, were it my job to "travel to communities around North America speaking about the merits of this particular school," I'm quite positive I would have made the same mistake, since I grew up calling them "thongs," as well.

I think it's only been the past 7-10 years that I took notice of them being called "flip-flops." I still call them "thongs." Those other things, which didn't come into my consciousness until about 7-10 years ago, I just refer to as buttcrack dental floss.

Posted by: Erica | Jun 19, 2008 3:16:07 PM

That is still one of my favorite stories about him. You actually tell it better than him though.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 19, 2008 4:14:21 PM

That is a movie scene quality moment!

Posted by: arrrteest | Jun 19, 2008 4:56:20 PM

oh i love it - bet he never made that mistake again!
and btw i did the "rubber" thing too. i was 17 and on a work study program in Jerusalem, having lived my life up to that point in the UK. I was working in J'lem for the UJA. I was a religious girl, very tzanua, aidel like your friend. I asked my very American Boss to please pass me a rubber. because i was so naive at that point, he had to explain to me why he was laughing so hard he had to peel himself off the floor. i was sooooo embarrassed.

Posted by: Hadassah | Jun 19, 2008 5:16:30 PM

Is it just me, or does it seem like the meanings of words are always migrating in that direction? We'd better keep making new words for things, or, pretty soon, every word will have a dirt meaning and the only thing we'll be able to talk about is....

Posted by: M. Patterson | Jun 19, 2008 5:17:39 PM

Boy, where are Abbot and Costello when we need a dialogue involving Galoshes, looking for a missing screw, pencil erasers and flip-flops?

Posted by: BZ | Jun 19, 2008 5:45:40 PM

My nephew's siddur party when he was in Kindergarten was pretty memorable too... especially when the rebbe was talking about how wonderful the boys are, and how they daven and learn, instead of being playing with videos, gamestations, and playboys, like other boys their age.

I guess the other boys their age must be pretty precocious.

Posted by: sp | Jun 19, 2008 7:48:02 PM

Of course thongs are flip-flops. My friends and I insist on calling them that to this day...

Posted by: Baila | Jun 19, 2008 7:57:50 PM

I used to call them thongs too. And I'm not from New England.

Posted by: mata hari | Jun 19, 2008 8:35:48 PM

Of course, the important question of the hour is: why would a "full of black hats, floor-length skirts and wigs" be familiar with any other meaning of the word?

My own moment of cultural linguistic dissociation came when I referred to a light coat as a "windbreaker" around a native resident of the British empire...

Posted by: efrex | Jun 19, 2008 8:36:53 PM

Great post! Here's one from a French student on a ferry who wanted a drink and, as most French people, couldn' hear the difference between the fizzy, brown, American soft drink she wanted and a male genital organ. She certainly got a strange look back.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 19, 2008 10:31:59 PM

That's priceless. Did he manage to recruit some students anyway or was the whole thing a disaster? If the whole thing was so awkward that it was clear that his trip there was a complete failure he should have at least played it up for laughs, though he sounds like he has the opposite of the necessary personality. I'm imagining something like:

"...but at the same time we'd prefer that the girls didn't wear thongs in the Beit Midrash."

[Stunned silence. Some gentle soul whispers to the speaker an explanation of the other meaning of the word "thong". The speaker considers this disorienting news for ten seconds then continues]

"... I mean, unless she's got the figure for it."

He would have never been invited back (and if word returned to his school, may have lost his job), but it would have been worth it.

Posted by: Albert | Jun 20, 2008 12:52:13 AM

Ah, the English (or shall we say American) language. I have to deal with this everytime I teach a song that has the word gay in. Maybe some newswire service ought to have a daily posting to inform us as to which words now have a less than tznius meaning. Meanwhile, I am reminded of a story a friend of mine told me many years ago when his older brother first arrived at a Jerusalem yeshiva to study and had the misfortune to not only have an English roommate, but the name Randy...I will leave it to the Gentle Readers here to imagine how the introductions went...

Posted by: Marsha in Stamford | Jun 20, 2008 12:58:54 AM

Then, of course, you should remember that the term geyser in England used to mean the hot-water heater. Pronounced geezer. ANd English baths being what they were, people would complain about 'problems' with the geyser (geezer)'.

I used to think they were talking about their old man, till someone finally clued me in.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Jun 20, 2008 3:20:17 AM

I know an American man who went into a British department store and asked for suspenders. The saleslady asked if it was for his wife, and he insisted they were for him... (suspenders are garters in British English)

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jun 20, 2008 6:20:38 AM

Albert - NOW that would be funny.

BZ - I don't get the galoshes - can you please explain?

Posted by: jaime | Jun 20, 2008 6:43:41 AM

i grew up in california and i always called them thongs, until the buttcrack dental floss variety became popular. a friend of mine, on an exchange program in france during high school, was asked by one of her host family's kids whether americans ate lots of hot dogs. she attempted to say "no, because they're full of preservatives" but didn't know the right word in french so she just said "preservatif"... which, she was later told, meant "contraceptives", thus explaining the spluttering and general hilarity...

Posted by: pattiviola | Jun 20, 2008 7:19:28 AM

We call thongs jandals in Kiwi speak. I believe it came from the merger of Japanese and Sandals (where the original idea came from).

Posted by: Noa | Jun 20, 2008 10:41:28 AM

Along the same lines -

I once heard a rabbi speaking at a teen outreach program. He had made a point, and was about to make a large exception to what he had just said. This is how it came out:

"But - and this is a big but..."

I leave the rest to your imagination.

Posted by: psachya | Jun 20, 2008 11:34:06 AM

You left out the part f the story where he said that he wore thongs sometimes too, until they gave him a blister. And he is in fact an extremely decent fellow, with a lovely wife to boot.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Jun 20, 2008 3:33:48 PM

I grew up calling them thongs or flip-flops, interchangeably. My husband was raised in Hawaii, and calls them slippers, or more precisely, 'slippahs'.

I like 'jandals'.

Poor guy. I taught a book to my sixth graders last year, set in the Ice Age, where at one point the main character ties her boots on with thongs. The kids were terribly confused, also nervous about asking...

Posted by: balabusta in blue jeans | Jun 20, 2008 7:46:51 PM

Teach him how to say "Jap flaps." I'm sure that would be just fine... er... it was when we were 13 yrs old!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 20, 2008 10:37:40 PM

didn't he also mention the fact that his kids still wear them to the beach and when their out with their friends and find them comfortable?

Posted by: ed | Jun 22, 2008 9:24:06 AM

Dave - galoshes are also called "rubbers" in America.

Posted by: Alex | Jun 23, 2008 8:26:13 PM

From the Gaffer himself - We call it, worst rabbinic moments

I'm a little late at chiming in but the rest of the story goes something like this:

After hearing stunned silence and seeing their perplexed expressions, I realized something was awry. My 1st thought was that I over represented the frumkeit level of the school and turned off the girls. So I attempted to recover by stating that fact that, "my teenage daughters wear thongs, to school, in town, but they have the sensitivity not to wear their thongs in the beit kenesset." "We would expect the same of our students as we do from our children. It's a matter of learning the proper sensitivity of a makom kodesh I continued..." When that did not seem to generate any reaction, I shared my personal experience of wearing thongs as a kid...and how uncomfortable they were. In fact I said, "I had to stop wearing them because they always gave me a blister, so I had to stop wearing them!" This generated a gasp, I figured they were sqeemish b/c of the blister.

This was when one of the students has rachamim on me and asked me if I was referring to flip flops.

Well the postmortem is that this story has been translated in 70 languages and I have embarrassed my children and ruined their chances of a shidduch!

You gotta laugh sometime

Posted by: From the Gaffer himself | Jul 3, 2008 7:31:13 AM

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