Coming to America

This was my first Toastmasters talk for 4 min. last week at Nutanix.

I’ve always wanted to be an American.

Ever since I was a boy, I grew up on a steady diet of Hollywood movies. One movie, in the 80s in particular made a deep impression on me — “Back to the Future”. How many of you have seen this movie?

(show of hands)

Back to the Future Gadgets

OK, so plenty of you have. So as you already know, this is a story about a teenage boy who goes back into the past and invents a better future for himself and his loved ones. What I loved about this movie was this was a science fiction movie — flying cars, self tying shoelaces, hover boards, 3D holographic projections and more! And I thought to myself that if one day a time machine will be invented, it will have to be in the USA. I couldn’t wait to get there.

Several years later, I did get the opportunity to come to America. Given that I knew so much about America via Hollywood, and knew English reasonably well, I thought it would be a slam dunk to start working here. But I was in for a rude shock.

For starters, Americans seemed to use a ton of sports expressions and idioms in business. Let me give you 5 examples.

One of them was “Hit it out of the ball park”. I got that. In India, we grew up on Cricket (playing, not watching), Football aka Soccer (playing, not watching) and Basketball (playing, not watching). So I understood that hitting something out of the ball park is the equivalent of out of the stadium (in Cricket) must mean a big score, like a Sixer.

Then it got weirder.

“Came out of left field”. Why is that a bad thing? We score on all sides in Cricket.

And then this one… “Keep Raj in the Bullpen”. Was this person insulting me by calling me a bull? Did it have something to do with my cow worshipping?

Fortunately, I had a great manager who would explain this to me. I would write these things down and he would laugh and tell me what they really meant. And no, he assured me, they were not insulting of anyone.

And then one more. One day I got invited to “Come to Jesus meeting”. Now I was really concerned — is this a secret conversion meeting?! I thought this thing didn’t happen in the workplace!

And finally, someone mentioned a “Hail Mary Pass”. I was quick to point to out that I never made a pass at anyone, specially that Mary (She wasn’t even my type).

So what did I learn?

Being an American is not just about knowing English. It’s about understanding — and embracing the pop culture references, sports idioms and more — and really wanting to melt into the melting pot.

Yes that may seem like monday morning quarterbacking now, but if i had a deLorean, I would gladly do the 88 miles an hour and go back to the 80s, speak to myself to watch sports and get the blocking and tackling done, and get over the goal line faster.

And oh, btw, I am an American Citizen now and I still suck at sports!

Thank you.

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