I’ve never been a two-fisted conversationalist, especially around people I don’t know well.

When I was in my teens I somehow acquired a pretty girlfriend. I was invited to dinner at her home. She and I, her mom and dad, a younger brother and two elderly grandparents, a table full. All strangers, except for my girlfriend.

My discomfort was huge, and things just got worse when I found that I had nothing to say to anyone about anything. My silence eventually reinforced itself. I figured after having gone for a long time without joining the conversation, if I ever did jump in, then whatever I said had better be good. But I had nothing.

My girlfriend was looking askance at me. As it turns out, the only word I uttered at the table that night was “bustard.” That and nothing more.

The Bustard is a tallish bird of the crane family found in Northern Africa, Southern Europe and Eurasia. Most ordinary Americans have never heard of it. But birds, hey, now that was a subject I could talk about. And the grandmother gave me my opening.

She and the grandfather had recently returned from an overseas trip and were talking about unusual birds they noticed, birds we don’t see here. They described a bird in some detail that interested them because it had a funny name. It was tan, with a long neck and black and white tail feathers. But they couldn’t recall the funny name.

I blurted out, “Bustard!” Everyone looked at me.

Feeling pretty good about myself for the first time that night, I was about to explain that this is the name of a bird in that region fitting her description.

I had planned to tell these people that I was somewhat of a bird geek, a self-deprecating phrase that would make me likable, I hoped. This was to be the conversational icebreaker I needed. It would also make me look smart. My girlfriend would be proud. The table talk would proceed and I’d join in, salvaging the evening.

The grandmother paused after giving me a strange look. Everyone at the table gave me a strange look. Then the grandmother continued, calmly saying to the others, “Oh, I remember the bird’s name: Hoopoe, that’s what the guide called it.” And she turned to her husband for confirmation, “Wasn’t that right, dear? Hoopoe. Remember it now?”

The husband nodded, his mouth full of mashed potatoes, not really caring. Although out of the corner of his eye, he was still looking at me. I never explained. In any case, my identification had been wrong, so claiming to be knowledgeable about birds wouldn’t have made sense. I didn’t say anything else that night except maybe, goodbye.

Which is pretty much what my girlfriend said to me a few days later.

"Good bye."

“Good bye.”

2 Responses to ““Bustard!””

  1. Michelle says:

    Oh geez. I can see why they thought you said “bastard”… the two words look so similar.

  2. Ian Layton says:

    I had a similar experience. I grew up in the UK. My Dad was involved in breeding dogs. In our house, we made the distinction between the sexes (of dogs) using the correct terminology. Once I came to the US it did not take me long to realize that one did NOT use the “B**CH” word in “polite” company!!!

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