A year ago I said goodbye to 60 of the sweetest, cleverest, and brightest young minds from Nigeria and Tanzania.  I spent 10 months getting to know them – sharing their fears and dreams, occasionally scolding them, constantly laughing with them, and always wishing that I could keep them close company for much longer.

I could write a million posts about my experiences with them, but today I was so strongly reminded of the silly story of the water bottles.

When the kids first arrived in the States, we took them to Washington, D.C.  We told them that, while in D.C., they should ALWAYS have with them two things: their passports and their water bottles.  However, every morning after breakfast, before heading into the city, we’d have to tell about 90% of them to go get their water bottles!  Every single time, the culprit would stare at us quizzically like we were suggesting they go up to their room and return with some moon rocks or a leprechaun.  One of their peers would quickly intercede on our behalf, say something in Swahili or Hausa, and the water bottle would soon be with them again.

This situation was puzzling to all of us who were chaperoning, but we chalked it up to some strange cultural misunderstanding and let it go.

Almost 7 months later, someone finally explained to us what had been happening.  You see, we Americans don’t really like to pronounce our “t” sounds as often as we ought to.  So when we said, “Go get your water bottle!”  They heard our American-English request as, “Go get your waderbodel.”  They kept asking each other, “What’s a waderbodle?!  Why do they think we know what that is?!”

I explained today to my Korean sixth graders the concept of the “Lazy American ‘T'” – which is the title of a poem that one of my students wrote last year.  You can find it, as well as many other funny stories and interesting articles, on the blog for Iowa Resource for International Service.

The Lazy American ‘T’

by Tijjani Halilu

I was able to Identify
Though Ratify
How Americans Defy
The presence of ‘T’ to the so-called ‘D’

Something of surprise
Though rationalize
When they suncualize
Even if I try
When I say Peanut Butter
They said Peanud Budder

When I say Water Bottle
They said Wader Boddle
When I say Little
They said Liddle
They keep changing Atom to AdomBetter to BedderNewton to Newdn

Can’t they get it right?

Bottle — Boddle
Katie — Kadie
Mountain — Moundn
Katie — Kadie

It never makes sense to me… this LAZY American ‘T’