The scene is a ward of a hospital in Southern England.
I am chatting with a friend, another speech therapist who’s from South Africa. She and her roommate are joining us for dinner that evening. She’s asked if she can bring anything. I suggest that she could bring a dessert.
As we are parting company, she says, “So I’ll see you at six with pudding!”
I reply, “Pudding? How nice!”
She looks at me oddly. “But that’s what you asked me to bring.”
I answer, “Well, I just said dessert, but pudding’s great!”
She starts to frown a bit, “Isn’t that what you want?”
I’m worried that I’ve offended her by suggesting that I don’t like pudding. “No! I love pudding!”
“But you seem surprised. Do you want me to bring something else?”
I’ve really screwed this up, it seems, and I’m not sure how to fix it.
“No! Pudding is fine! Really. Any flavor.”
A nurse sitting at the desk is swiveling her head back and forth like she’s watching Wimbledon, but played really awkwardly by two people who don’t quite understand the rules and are using salad tongs instead of racquets.
“Flavor? Did you have something specific you wanted me to bring?”
“No, any kind is great.”
“But you want me to bring pudding.”
“Only if you want to.”
“But you asked me to!”
“Any dessert at all is fine! Really!”
“But that’s what I’m bringing!”
I’m worried now that 1) She’s going to pelt my front door with ambrosia salad, and 2) the nurse is going to sustain a neck injury.
“But anything is fine, really, pudding or whatever you want.”
“So you don’t want me to bring a dessert?”
Maybe we should just give up food.
“I would love for you to bring a dessert. It just doesn’t have to be pudding.”
About this time I’m seriousy considering that I’ve made a monumental mistake becoming someone who helps others with communication. Cause I suck.
The friend says, after a pause, “Wait…do you think pudding and dessert are different things?”
“Umm…I think pudding is a sub-class of dessert. Creamy stuff, comes in chocolate and vanilla? Sold by Bill Cosby?”
“Never mind. Do you think pudding and dessert are different things?”
“No. In this part of the world they both mean the treat you eat after dinner.”
“Really?” I ask.
The nurse looks at me. “I could have told you that.”
“Well what do you call the creamy stuff made from milk?”
My friend asks, “Like a custard?”
The nurse says, “No, I think she means a blancmange.”
“No!” I say, “Pudding! The stuff made by Jello!”
“We don’t say ‘jello,’ we say ‘jelly.'”
And now all I want is a gin and tonic.