The Great Broom DebateBy Judy Prince
February 27, 2010
I was staring at Rodent’s kitchen floor and hating the broom, not yet having found the kind I like, which is a Chinese fan-shaped broom that takes lots less effort than any other shape of broom.
“Where can we get a Chinese fan-shaped broom that’ll make sweeping easy? I never see them at Tesco—is there a Chinese store around here?”
Rodent’s kitchen is in his house which is in England.
He looked confident. I was suspicious.
“Don’t worry,” he said.
This was a millenial shift from his usual, “We’ll see.”
I carried on hating the broom and his kitchen, especially since it needed painting and a new floor, as well as new lighting, stove, fridge, sink, countertops and cabinets.
I hung up the broom on the side of the cabinet next to the wonderful “Shit Happens” apron hanging near a never-used DustBuster, dead-batteried “torch” (flashlight) and two sets of keys that worked nowhere.
Did I mention that dear Rodent is a native of Scotland, and for many years has lived in England? That qualifies us, since I’m a native USAmerican, as a couple divided by a common language.
Months before, he had recoiled immediately, and uncharacteristically, when I’d told him to change his pants. We debated the UK and USA meanings of “pants” long after he had actually changed them. I had meant his khakis; he’d thought I meant his briefs.
These word debates have stretched throughout our loveship and tend to happen at inconvenient times, such as the first time I wanted to bake an apple crumble, and he said the oven is part of the cooker.
“Where’s the cooker?” I asked.
His reply, God help us, was: “In the kitchen,” followed by, “and the cooker is the cooker.”
“OK,” I said, settling down for a long debate: “Where’s the oven, then?”
“It’s inside the cooker, of course. Where else would it be?”
I took a seat and wondered just how to commit suicide using a gas oven which seemed present but unidentifiable.
An image came to me of the Chinese cleaver, ever handy in the Slicey-Choppy drawer next to the thing I had thought was the stove, on top of which were things I had used as burners but which were called “hobs”.
With inordinate patience and creativity, I said, “I’m going to the toilet now, that little room next door which contains no bathtub. If it contained a bathtub, I would have to call it “the bathroom”—not “the toilet”—or the Building Society would be forced to condemn the house and its occupants for lack of Englishness. When I return to the kitchen, please have the door of the oven, which is in the cooker, open, so that I can put the apple crumble in it.”
When I returned from the toilet, I noted with immense satisfaction that the door of the oven was open and there was no sign of a cooker anywhere to be seen. In went the apple crumble followed by a 15-minute explanation of Gas Marks 1 to 8, as distinct from Fahrenheit-designated oven temperatures.
It didn’t take dear Rodent long at all to provide me a broom for the kitchen. He’s a man, after all, and men have to Do Things in order to continue qualifying as men. This I guess is the case in both our countries.
He appeared, grinningly pleased with himself, in the kitchen, holding a push broom.
Seconds passed, grin still strong. I waited for a move of some kind, some sign as to why he had brought a push broom into the kitchen.
“You got a job sweeping Tesco’s car park, and you want to practice?” I offered.
“This is your broom for the kitchen,” Rodent said triumphantly, his mission accomplished.
“It’s a push broom, and it’s usually used out of doors or in the garage, but not in the house.”
“You wanted a broom—and this is a broom,” he insisted.
“I agree: It is a broom. But as you can see it bears little resemblance to the broom that I usually use in the kitchen,” and I grabbed the derelict kitchen broom.
“That’s a brush,” Rodent countered. “You didn’t say you wanted a brush. You said you wanted a broom.”
“What does a kitchen brush look like, then?” I asked.
“Like what you’re holding,” he said.
“Are there any kinds of brooms other than the push broom you have brought?” I wanted to know.
“No, just that. It’s the only kind of thing we call a broom.”
“So, if I want something to sweep the floor in the kitchen, I will call it a brush—not a broom.”
“Or you could call it a broom, and here it is,” he said patting the push broom.
No doubt because he’s a man, he began Doing Something. He began using the push broom.
I couldn’t stand it. He was pulling the push broom, not pushing it. Over and over again.
I called it to his attention. He explained: “That’s because I’m inside the house trying to sweep up some dust, obviously—not outside trying to sweep up some leaves.”
There’s a special kind of laugh-weep reserved for UK-USA couples. It leads to big, floppy, weak hugs and kisses.
This laugh-weep keeps the Queen’s English alive alongside its dimly reflecting colonial vocabulary, and it assures us of our places next to one another as partners in ongoing ignorance.
It also breeds patience.