America is an awfully big country, and language just isn't the same from one place to the next. I have lived in a couple of different places and I should be used to this by now. I was in Mississippi once and it was days before I understood a word anyone was saying. In Massachusetts I thought a neighbor was complaining that his cow was stolen, but when he said they caught it on the Turnpike going 75mph I figured he had to mean "car."
But I have been genuinely shocked by MInnesotans. Twice.
The second time was last Saturday , when a lady giving me a facial said she liked to -- wait, I better start at the beginning.
A couple of years ago the pastor at our church decided to offer a course in basic Catholicism. Since no one's Catholicism is more basic than mine, I figured I'd take the class. I hadn't read the new Catechism yet, and there were a few things I wanted to nail down once and for all, like how to pronounce "schism." Also "chasm," should he decide to throw that in.
The usual crowd showed up for the course- timid lifers, know-it-all converts, the pastor's mother. One evening we were talking about the Ten Commandments. An elderly lady had a question about the commandment to keep the Sabbath. (I think that's number three, but don't quote me.) She said she was sometimes unsure where to draw the line between a hobby and work.
"Yeah, that's a tough one," said our amiable pastor. "Think of it this way. Suppose you have a garden,and your garden needs some work. Now, if by 'work' you mean hauling boulders and laying bricks, well, that would be real work. But if you just feel like putzing around out there..."
I dropped my pen. But no one else seemed to have noticed anything. Slip of the tongue, I said to myself. I picked up my pen and went back to my notes.
"Well, sure, Father, I can see that," said another old lady. "I like to putz around my garden too, and...."
Now I had to look around. No one was batting an eye! Next thing you knew they were all going on about their favorite plces to putz. I was in a church basement, and I was at a putz fest.
The next day when I took my daughter to her preschool at Temple Israel I nabbed one of the teachers. "OK, set me straight on this," I said, and I told them the whole story. After their initial shock -- "He said that in CHURCH?"-- they explained that the p-word does not possess the literal meaning in these parts that it has back in NY. "You hear it here, they don't know what it means. They think it means 'putter' or something like that."
I still can't believe it, though. I tried to imagine somebody like Father Rutler casually mentioning the need to "putz," and I couldn't do it. Not that I'm going to ask him, either-- he'd be shocked. And rightly so. I mean, look how appalled he was when I told him I belong to a "kick-ass parish" out here.
But he let it slide.
Anyway. on Saturday I was getting a facial from a lovely Hungarian lady and she starts talking about "putzing," too. I winced. Of all the habits I'm likely to pick up out here I hope that isn't one of them. I certainly wouldnt' letmy daughter the term.
Of course I don't let her say "you betcha" either.