A Fret About The Serviette

, , , , , | Learning | June 6, 2018

(I am a fourth-grade student in the late 90s. Our class is having snacks.)

Me: “Does anybody have a napkin?”

Teacher: “You don’t say, ‘napkin,’ [My Name]! This is Canada!”

Me: “I’m sorry, but what am I supposed to say? I need a napkin.”

Teacher: “Don’t say, ‘napkin’! ‘Napkin’ is an American term! We call them ‘serviettes’ in Canada!”

Me: “Okay, geez, does anybody have a ‘serviette’?”

Classmate: “Here, you can have one of my napkins.”

Teacher: “SAY, ‘SERVIETTE’!”

(We didn’t want to suffer through this any further, so pretty much the entire class tried to avoid saying, ‘napkin,’ around this teacher. I was always perplexed by this experience, because every time I went to the supermarket with my parents, I only ever saw napkins being sold; I have seen ‘serviette’ used as the French word for ‘napkin,’ but I’ve never seen it used as the Canadian English term. From fifth grade onwards, I’ve gone back to calling them ‘napkins,’ and haven’t gotten into any trouble well into my adult life. If I had to take anything positive out of this, it was probably what triggered my fascination with linguistics.)

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