When I came to the U.S. as a freshman in college, my English was already very good but there was one area where I had problems: American idioms and expressions. Having been taught British English, I knew some British expressions but next to no American ones at all. This led to many hilarious moments where I either misused an expression or misunderstood one. Like the time when we were all hanging out in our dorm during my freshman year, playing a game of “how much would it take for you to?” when someone asked how much money it would take to wet yourself in the middle of campus. I, thinking that “wet myself” meant pouring a bucket of water over my head, said that I would do it for no money at all, just for the fun of it, what’s the big deal. Hilarity ensued.
Or there was the time, when, in complete seriousness, I announced to my friends that I was going to go have a douche. It took a few minutes for them to be able to stop laughing and explain to me what a douche is in American English and for me to explain to them that douche is what we call a shower back home.
So, after a few of these incidents, a group of my close friends decided to play a prank on me. They were going to teach me an American expression that was completely wrong and then wait until I used it at an inappropriate, but appropriately hilarious time. Let me preface this by first saying that these were amazing friends, people who welcomed me in their lives and loved me and with whom I stayed in touch for years after college, some even until now. The prank was not malicious, but just good-natured and silly freshman fun.
So the phrase they taught me was “lizards on the wall,” which they said meant that a meal was really good. They then sat back and waited until at some point, at a dinner, perhaps at one of their parents’ home where they invited me for Thanksgiving or Christmas or spring break, I would put my fork and knife down and proclaim: “Mrs. X, this dinner was amazing. It was like lizards on the wall.”
Alas, to their disappointment, I never used the phrase and in fact forgot all about it or even that they ever taught me such a phrase. It wasn’t until years later that one of them told me about it that I vaguely remembered it.
My command of the American English language has definitely improved over the last 25 years though sometimes I still stumble on idiomatic expressions. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned that the correct expression is not “happy as a clown” but “happy as a clam.” Personally, I think a clown makes a lot more sense.
In any case, one of my favorite expressions is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It captures perfectly my cooking philosophy of working with what you have and making it work. So, for this 4th of July I give you a super simple and quick lemonade recipe. Barely a recipe really. But it’s how my mom would use up the many lemons from the tree outside our house in the summers. I have many memories drinking lemonade to cool down from the unbearable heat, sitting in the shade, happy as a clown.
1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2-3/4 cup of sugar (depending on how sour the lemons are and how tart you like your lemonade)
In a 2-cup measuring cup or a small bowl combine juice and sugar and stir with a spoon for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves and the juice is syrupy. If you want to speed up the process, you can gently heat it, but the sugar will dissolve even at room temperature. Taste it and adjust the amount of sugar or lemon juice to your liking.
In a glass, add 2-3 tablespoons of the lemon syrup and fill the glass with ice cold water (still or sparkling). Stir with a spoon.