A Diamette a Dozen
Dialect, diamond chips and decadent desserts
By Cynthia Adams
“There’s someone on the phone saying you won a free Diamette!” Don exclaimed from the kitchen. Grabbing a towel, I clambered out of the tub as he uttered:
“We just need to order a year’s worth of vitamins.”
My South African hubby pronounced this, “VIT-ah-mins.”
He appeared at the bathroom door, a new cordless Radio Shack phone in hand. “She’s on the phone now!”
Clamping his palm over the receiver he whispered, “What’s a Diamette?”
Slick with bathwater, I visualized a pin-sized diamond chip and mouthed, “NO! Don’t do it!” Did it matter that there was no such thing as a Diamette — it was probably just a clever workaround for some trademark like Diamanté?
Deeply enamored of telephones and TVs, Don emigrated from South Africa, where required government permits for either were challenging. Channeling Elvis, he now wanted them throughout our tiny cottage — so small we could have used cans and strings.
In South Africa, local calls, too, were billed by the minute, so telemarketing was unknown territory.
There were many landmines in the Land of Free Markets. And Don was a total innocent when it came to bogus giveaways and promotions.
“In this country, everything is legal until you’re told it’s not,” he solemnly noted.
I never got the Diamette, whatever it was purported to be.
There was a lot for me to learn, too. Sometimes, our separate realities were exactly as George Bernard Shaw once said: countries divided by a common language.
One evening, we returned from work to a frigid house. The irritable oil furnace, normally belching and rumbling, had gone silent.
Being handy, Don figured he could fix it. From beneath the house, he shouted, “Bring me a torch!”
I blanched. Wasn’t he from Johannesburg — not the wilds of Borneo?
“That may be something you use back home,” I retorted, “but I would not bring you a lighted torch even if I had one!”
He reappeared upstairs, face smudged, looking annoyed. “I cannot see without a torch!”
We stared, both incredulous.
Don pantomimed, clicking with his thumb: “A torch! A light?”
There were more such moments. “Al-YOU-minium” is his word for foil, the stuff you wrap around baking potatoes.
Born in a land of abundant seafood, Don explained at the market that prawns are a specific crustacean.
The checkout woman bet I “married him for his accent.” I glowered at her.
Afterward, we placed our groceries in the boot (trunk). He patiently explained the bonnet (the hood) and cubbyhole (glove box) as we parsed out automobiles.
When our furnace died that famous night, Don went in search of a jersey (sweater). My sweatshirt, it turns out, is his sweater.
“One of those things with a logo on it! Part of a tracksuit,” he explained. Which I knew, at least then, as a jogging suit.
Those, I believe, have gone the way of the dodo bird.
We spent months in linguistic bafflement. Just when we were progressing, we visited South Africa for Christmas. Now the tables were turned.
The only snow Don had ever seen was in the Drakensberg Mountains during winter — our summer. But it seemed South Africans liked nothing better than decorating windows with fake snow and cavorting snowmen as vibrant yellow acacias and tree-sized poinsettias bloomed.
The family Christmas tree reminded me of Charlie Brown. A pitiable, sorrowful thing.
I resisted snapping a shot to show folks back home, mesmerized by a line of ducks walking a plank into the swimming pool to escape the sweltering heat, while awaiting my first South African holiday dinner.
For dessert, the tour de force: fruitcake encased in a shell of marzipan, and a flambéed Christmas pudding. Unbeknownst to me, silver heirlooms, lucky tokens, were baked inside.
I swallowed mine before noting others raking through each morsel. Mortified, I concealed all evidence and prepared to walk the plank. The Diamette, like the silver token, was a lost cause, and it appeared that in the culture wars between a South African and an overly smug American, so was I. OH
Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.