“Driving out of the zoo’s parking lot, a student from Israel exclaimed, ‘Oh, look! There’s a peace pigeon.’ It was a mourning dove, of course, and then I had to explain why it flew about in the afternoons as well as the morning and that it wasn’t grieving; it only sounded like it was.”—Skip Eisiminger
Skip the B.S.
By Dr. Skip Eisiminger
CLEMSON South Carolina—(Hubris)—1 August 2023—Though my in-laws know me as the fellow who calls a German rabbit a “canned chicken,” I opened a can of worms when I agreed to accompany a group of Clemson’s Conversation Partners to the Greenville Zoo. The weekly CP gathering consists mainly of foreign graduate students who wish to improve their English and thus win a paid job teaching a low-level class or lab in their second year of study.
On the van ride to Greenville, Anatoly wanted to know if Greenville had a “liquid zoo.” I figured he meant aquarium and told him they did not; the zoo we were visiting had nothing but land animals and a few birds. I suggested they read each animal’s description as provided by the zoo and take notes because, on the return trip, I was going to quiz them, informally.
As we meandered through the zoo’s grounds, I overheard students referring to the rhinoceros as the “battle unicorn,” the male peacocks as “disco chickens,” and the Komodo dragon as the “kimono dragon.” On the ride home, I decided to play their game and asked, “What’s a danger noodle?”
“A snake,” sang the choir.
“What’s a stink squirrel? We smelled one on the ride over here.”
“What’s a trash panda? My wife and I have some living in the woods near us.”
“Finally, what’s a little needle mouse?”
“A hedgehog,” said one young woman. “Cutest animal in the zoo.”
“You are a bright group,” I told them.
A Peruvian woman then asked, “Professor Skip, what is the ‘Christmas llama?’”
“Has to be a reindeer,” I said. “Now here’s one for you: Is the animal we saw a ‘rain-deer,’ a ‘reign-deer,’ or a ‘rein-deer’?”
Several thought it had to be “rain-deer” since Scandinavia receives a lot of snow and rain, but, in fact, the “rein” is of uncertain origin. It may refer to deer-like animals that humans can guide with reins, like a horse, or it’s a large horned beast. There followed a lively discussion of how American children believe Santa’s reindeer can fly. This was interrupted by a French student who reckoned, “Santa better watch out: Americans are so ‘gun-ho,’ they might shoot his flying deer.”
Driving out of the zoo’s parking lot, a student from Israel exclaimed, “Oh, look! There’s a peace pigeon.” It was a mourning dove, of course, and then I had to explain why it flew about in the afternoons as well as the morning and that it wasn’t grieving; it only sounded like it was.
Back on campus the following week, we gathered, as we’d agreed, in Schilletter Dining Hall, and walked through the serving line together. As one cafeteria worker ground some hamburger, a German student wanted to know what Americans call the “flesh wolf.”
“It’s a very unmetaphorical ‘meat grinder,’” I said, “and that stainless-steel bowl you see on the counter is not a ‘pasta dryer’ or ‘hole bowl,’ as I heard one of you call it; it’s a ‘colander’ or ‘sieve.’ English borrowed the first of that pair from Spanish and the second from German. English speakers seldom meet a stranger and have a long habit of adopting the most interesting words of their new acquaintances, which while fattening our thesaurus has made it harder for you.”
As we worked our way along the serving line, one student asked the server for “ghost broccoli,” and another asked for “Irish guacamole.” I leaned over the sneeze guard and explained that the students wanted cauliflower and mashed potatoes. After everyone was seated, the Romanian student who’d asked for the mashed potatoes wondered if she could get the “food tutorial.” She said the only change she’d make to the recipe would be to add some “Dracula.”
“It’s garlic!” her Italian roommate said.
As we were finishing our meal, a student from South Korea said he was surprised that some of the natives around us were still eating ‘breakfast soup.’ Why it’s 13-hundred hours in the afternoon,” he said. Later, I learned he was here on a Korean military scholarship.
When one homesick fellow from Iran mentioned that it was his birthday, I asked the manager if we could throw him a small party. In short order, we were served sodas with “juice tubes,” “party muffins” topped with “elderly grapes” in the “freezing,” and “cake fire.” One student said she was reminded of the time another of her mentors had taken her and her son to the “Kiddie Casino,” also known, as we learned, as “Chuck E. Cheese.” “We still call a carousel,” she said, “the horse tornado.”
The following week, we took the city bus to the Wal-Mart in Central because it carries clothing and personal items that Clemson’s Marketplace Wal-Mart does not. The group’s wisenheimer wanted to know if the store carried “DVDs” and “penis socks” because he was running low on both. His girlfriend said she relied on her “IOU,” but most of the women just giggled and covered their mouths when I explained. A student from Brazil said he really did need a “boot spoon,” some “shoe friends,” and a “towel coat” because the new shoes his mother had sent were too small, his socks were rank, and he was living in a co-ed dorm.
One of the women said she needed some “laundry sauce.” I said I thought it was in the grocery section, and she said, “Good, because I need a guacamole ball too.” At that point, a woman from Taiwan with a faint mustache whispered that she’d like to buy “eye weaves” and “face pliers.” She also said she had some “sprinkles” she wished to hide.
As we were leaving, Mr. “Circus-sized” Wisenheimer said he seriously needed some jeans without “farmer straps.” I said, “Of course, you don’t want to look like ‘a wolf in cheap clothing,’” but no one understood. I tried to explain that I’d been born with a silver foot in my mouth, and before they got all their English ducks on the same page, they would need to extract a lot of bugs from the ointment (to quote a former Clemson dean).
In the penultimate class in Daniel Hall before the semester’s end, we decided to meet in Fike Field House for our finale because as Daisuke, an agriculture major, said, he’d gained some weight and was not “peachy dory” with the results. I suggested a karate class, but he said he’d never been interested in “karaoke.”
His classmate Hiro, who’d already discovered the field house, said he had a great routine: “It’s easy as cake, Daisuke! You’ll have muscle hangovers to start with, but if you stick with it,” he said, “you will lose weight. I’ve lost ten pounds this semester, and I’m healthy as a clam.”
At this point, I said, “Hiro, turn the dark on before you leave.”
To order copies of Skip Eisiminger’s Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Digital Press), click on the book cover below or contact: Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing, Strode Tower, Box 340522, Clemson SC 29634-0522. For Wordspinner: Mind-Boggling Games for Word Lovers, click on the book cover.