Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The witness is instructed to answer the question

Bill is skyping with Emma right now on the computer on which I usually write my blog. He's helping her study for her exam. He read the text book (she ordered him a copy from Amazon and had it delivered last week) so he could study with her. I've been listening with half a brain... it sounds like Secured Transactions but in Canadian (she's studying at the University of Toronto). There are a few differences in business law between Canada and the United States. That's kind of an understatement. People assume that things in Canada and the US are pretty much the same. WRONG.  The differences are PLENTY! Starting with the way Canada is governed. But, I  am not going to blather on about that tonight.

First, I want to share with you the fact that I am writing this from Will's study. He left it fairly intact. Happily, for me he also left his big Apple desktop with a very nice keyboard. I like using it during the daylight - his study has 3 sides of windows and it's a really pleasant room -  but not at night. Because.... he also left this very creepy 'installation' which I thought  was going to accompany him when he went away to school.  I have moved it deliberately into a corner so that I don't see it when I walk past his room. I'm ashamed to say it scares me. He garbage picked it on Tillinghast last year.  Yes, it's a suit of armor - minus the helmet.


Will's best pal, Tommy gave him a very scary mask one year which fit nicely atop the shoulders. This addition is the part that scares me. So, imagine me sitting here writing my happy little blog with this thing standing guard. I'm a little unnerved.

What I wanted to talk about was the differences between how Canadians and Americans speak. I'm not talking about the obvious "ehs" and "abOOTs"  but rather how our sentences are constructed.

It makes Bill CRAZY.

I will often ask a question this way:

"Did you not see the garbage pails at the end of the driveway?"  You can hear the sarcasm, right? The sentence really means : "Why didn't you bring the damn pails up the driveway when you got home you lazy pig?"

Bill says that it is impossible to answer this question.  There are really just two possible responses:
1. Yes, I did not see the garbage pails; or
2  No, I did not see the garbage pails

Two differing responses that equate to the same answer. How do you answer YES, I did see the garbage pails but chose to ignore them? You cannot unless you deconstruct the sentence  and redo it.

My point is that Canadians are clever that way.  It's really a rhetorical question - one which isn't expecting a reply.

Which brings me to my point:  Bill has been living with me (and my mum -in the summer -w ho also uses this type of sentence) for so long that he, too,  has picked up this sentence construction habit. And he (mistakenly) used it in a deposition. Upon reading the transcript he realized his mistake and the fact that the answer could be interpreted in a way that was not advantageous to his client. He had to make sure that he reintroduced it at trial, in America-speak, to get the correct response.

So, he's the perfect combination to teach Canadian law to an American/Canadian student. He understands the rhetoric.

PS - I won a do(ugh)nut at Tim Hortons yesterday!

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