“Hello, it is I, your grandson, insert name here,” said Dinu.
“Correct,” said Professor Bogdan, language teacher at Liceu Teoretic. He leaned back in his chair and lit up a Chesterfield. “But too correct, you know?”
Too correct? Dinu did not know. In addition, he was asthmatic and the mere presence of a cigarette aroused a twitchy feeling in his lungs. No smoking in school, of course, but these private lessons, paid for by Uncle Dragomir, weren’t about school.
Professor Bogdan blew out a thin, dense stream of smoke, one little streamlet branching off and heading in Dinu’s direction. “There is English, Dinu, and then there is English as she is spoken.” He smiled an encouraging smile. His teeth were yellow, shading into brown at the gumline.
“English is she?” Dinu said.
“For God’s sake, it’s a joke,” said Profesor Bogdan. “Is there gender in English?”
“I don’t think such.”
“So. You don’t think so. Come, Dinu. You’ve studied three years of English. Loosen up.”
“That’s how the young in America talk. Loosen up, chill out, later.” He tapped a cylinder of ash into a paper cup on his desk. “Which is in fact what you need to know if I’m not mistaken, the argot of youth.” He glanced at Dinu. Their eyes met. Professor Bogdan looked away. “My point,” he went on, “is that no American says it is I. They say it’s me. The grammar is wrong but that’s how they say it. You must learn the right wrong grammar. That’s the secret of sounding American.”
“How will I learn?”
“There are ways. For one you could go to YouTube and type in ‘Country Music.’ Now begin again.”
“Hello, it’s me, your grandson, insert name here,” Dinu said.
“Much better,” said Professor Bogdan. “You might even say Yo, it’s me.”
“On my last trip I heard a lot of yo. Even my brother says it.”
“Your brother in New Hampshire?”
“No P sound. And sher, not shire. But yes, my brother.”
“The brother who is owning a business?”
“Who owns a business. Bogdan Plumbing and Heating.” Professor Bogdan opened a drawer, took out a T-shirt and tossed it to Dinu.
Dinu shook it out, held it up, took a look. On the front was a cartoon-type picture of a skier with tiny icicles in his bushy black mustache, brandishing a toilet plunger over his head. On the back it said: “Bogdan Plumbing and Heating, Number 1 in the Granite State.”
Dinu made a motion to hand it back.
“Keep it,” said Professor Bogdan.
“You’re welcome. New Hampshire is the Granite State. All the states have nicknames.”
“What is nicknames?”
“Like pet names. For example, what does your mother call you?”
Professor Bogdan blinked a couple of times. Like the skier, he had a bushy mustache, except his was mostly white. “Texas is the Lone Star State, Florida is the Sunshine State, Georgia is the Peach State.”
“They have a Georgia of their own. They have everything, Dinu, although – “ He leaned across the desk and pointed at Dinu with his nicotine-stained finger. “Although most of them don’t realize it and complain all the time just like us.”
“Does your brother complain?” Dinu said.
Professor Bogdan’s eyebrows, not quite as bushy as his mustache, rose in surprise. “No, Dinu. He does not complain. My brother grew up here. But his children – do you know what they drive? Teslas! Teslas almost fully paid off! But they complain.”
Those state nicknames sounded great to Dinu, even magical in the case of the lone star. He knew one thing for sure: if he ever got to America, Tesla or no Tesla, he would never complain.