Culture Shock

Maybe it's because I've never traveled that far from home before.

Maybe it's because I was born and raised in the South, and have been conditioned to hate the way of life of Yankees.

Maybe it's the fact that I've never met a real-live Yankee before, much less engaged in a conversation with them.

Maybe it's the chilly Atlantic air.

I really don't know why it bothers me so much, but there's a phrase they use up in New England that really just rubs me the wrong way.

Before I made plans to fly up to Boston, Danny had warned me that they use this phrase all the time. It apparently used to bug him, but he's using it now without even realising it.

As I stepped off the plane in Providence, local customs were the furthest thing from my mind. After all, it's not like I've left the country.

Danny picked me up and we drove a little bit until we decided to grab a bite to eat. There was a McDonald's at the next exit. I can deal with that. Their food is the same everywhere, and the service is, too.

When the tray was finally loaded and ready for us to take it and eat, like a Mack Truck being pushed by a freight train powered by an array of torpedoes and patriot missiles, here it came in broad daylight:

“All Set!”

I pointed out to Danny what our girl behind the counter had just uttered. He hadn't noticed.

It stuck out to me like a black man at a Klan rally.

People actually say that around here?

Slightly perplexed, I began on my QPC. At least it was familiah -er- familiar.

Later that night, we ducked into a pretty seedy tavern in Boston proper. The girl who was clearly in charge of each patron's state of inebriation recognized a pair of new faces and accosts us:

“All Set?”

The first one broadsided me. This one made me angry, confused, ashamed and indignant all at the same time. Pretty darned impressive for just two simple words.

At first, I didn't even understand what was going on. Clearly she was addressing me, and I knew for sure we hadn't had a conversation ever before in the history of always. It sounded to me like we were about to say our farewells. When was the last time a waitress came up to you before introducing herself and said “Bon Voyage!”

They do speak English up here, don't they?

She repeated herself, like I was a complete moron unaccustomed to serving procedures in such an establishment.

No. Believe it or not, I did not come into this tavern for a drink. I'm here to meet a group of Danny's friends. But since you inflected those words as a question, I suppose the answer you're looking for is, Yes.

Yes, I'm all set.

How does telling a person “No, I don't need a beverage” turn into an affirmative statement?

And not deteriorate into complete confusion every time?

I can get used to “Did yaah faathah paahk the caah in the yaahd?” That's an endearing accent that Americans have made fun of since the Kennedy administration. At least after running the sentence through an R augmentation script, it's perfectly understandable English.

Let's compare this phrase with a common local idiom from the South:

“All Set?” is not a sentence. There's no subject. There's no verb. In fact, zero percent of that phrase is a sentence. And neither word indicates an interrogative.

“'Jy'all eat?” is. Jy'all is actually a contraction of three words: Did, You, and All. Did forms the interrogatory nature of the statement. You and All introduce a subject, in this case, the second person plural, and Eat is the verb. Very efficient communication. And it hits your ears like buttery velvet.

I'll admit, I said it a few times while I was up there. To be ironic. Even so, I died a little inside each time. Partly because it felt so unnatural leaping from my lips, but mostly because no one noticed I was being ironic.

Boston is a great town, steeped in centuries of history. The vibe there is young, fresh, modern and progressive. If I was offered employment there, I'd consider relocating. The one thing that would stop me from making that decision is knowing I'd be assaulted with that horrifying phrase without mercy.

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