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1101 Problems Getting Along With Family

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,101 – Problems Getting Along with Family.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,101. Lots of ones. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Take a look at our Special Courses in Business and Daily English on our website.

This episode is a dialogue between Oscar and Priscilla about getting along with, or having good relations with, your family. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Oscar: So you’re back from your mother’s birthday dinner. How was it?

Priscilla: Same old, same old. It isn’t a family gathering without a major meltdown or blowup.

Oscar: Yikes, what happened?

Priscilla: You know how it is. It starts out with bickering and somebody taking offense at some slight or dig, or bringing up some old grievance.

Oscar: Well, that happens in most families.

Priscilla: Yeah, but in mine, they often turn into screaming matches. We all raise our voices and somebody always storms out.

Oscar: Even at your mother’s birthday dinner?

Priscilla: The occasion doesn’t matter. My mother tries to be the peacemaker, but it doesn’t take much for tempers to flare.

Oscar: That never happens in my family.

Priscilla: What?! Your family doesn’t fight when it gets together?

Oscar: No, we try to sweep things under the rug and put on a brave face.

Priscilla: What happens when you get mad at each other?

Oscar: Nothing.

Priscilla: What do you mean nothing?

Oscar: A lot of our family meals are eaten in stony silence.

Priscilla: Wow, I think I prefer our knock-down, drag-out fights!

[end of dialogue]

Oscar asks Priscilla, “So you’re back from your mother’s birthday dinner. How was it?” Priscilla says, “Same old, same old.” This is a phrase used informally to describe something that was unsurprising, or perhaps uninteresting or boring – the same as it has been, and as you expected it to be. Priscilla says, “It isn’t a family gathering,” meaning a meeting of the family, “without a major meltdown or blowup.”

“Meltdown” (meltdown) here refers to an intense display of, or show of, emotion – when someone, especially a child, loses control of his or her emotions and becomes very angry or very sad. Often people who have a meltdown, especially children, scream. They yell in a very loud voice. A “blowup” (blowup) is when someone becomes very angry very quickly and starts shouting. A blowup is usually related to an argument between two people where one of them starts yelling or screaming.

Oscar says, “Yikes, what happened?” “Yikes” (yikes) is an expression of surprise or disapproval. It’s a little old-fashioned, but you will still hear people say “yikes.” It’s sort of like saying “wow” or “geez.” So, Oscar is asking what happened at this family gathering. Priscilla says, “You know how it is,” meaning you understand the situation. “It starts out with bickering and somebody taking offense at some slight or dig, or bringing up some old grievance.”

Priscilla says, “It starts out with,” meaning it begins with, “bickering.” “To bicker” (bicker) means to argue, to fight verbally, usually over things that aren’t very important. “To take offense” (offense) means to become upset by what another person has said or done, usually to you. Someone may say something bad to you, something insulting. You might take offense. You might say, “Oh, how could you possibly say that?” and become angry.

Priscilla says that at this family gathering, some member of her family took “offense at some slight (slight) or dig (dig).” A “slight” is an insult, something you do or say to someone that shows you don’t respect them or you don’t like them. A “dig” is a critical remark or statement, often something that is made to make the person feel bad, but also to make other people laugh at you.

Priscilla also mentions someone bringing up an “old grievance.” A “grievance” (grievance) is a complaint that you have about something. You’re not happy with something. You think perhaps something is unfair, and you remain upset or mad about it. Oscar says, “Well, that happens in most families.” Priscilla says, “Yeah, but in mine, they often turn into screaming matches.” Priscilla is saying that family gatherings, when the family gets together, these meetings “often turn into” – or result in, become – “screaming matches.”

“To scream” is to yell very loudly. A “match” (match) is a competition, like a game between two people. We talk about “boxing matches,” where two people basically get into what’s called a “ring” (ring) and hit each other. Well, this isn’t a boxing match. This is a screaming match, where two people are yelling at each other. It’s not really a competition, of course, but we use this expression to refer to a situation when two people are yelling at each other in a loud voice.

Priscilla says, “We all raise our voices and somebody always storms out.” “To raise (raise) your voice” means to yell or to shout. “To storm (storm) out” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to leave the room angrily – to leave a room indicating to everyone how angry you are. Maybe you close the door very hard behind you. We would say “slam” (slam) the door. Oscar says, “Even at your mother’s birthday dinner?” Priscilla answers, “The occasion doesn’t matter.” She means it doesn’t matter why the group is getting together, why the family is getting together. There are always these arguments.

Priscilla continues, “My mother tries to be the peacemaker, but it doesn’t take much for tempers to flare.” A “peacemaker” (peacemaker) is a person who tries to end an argument or a fight between two people. A peacemaker is a person who tries to calm everyone down during an argument or a disagreement. Priscilla says, “It doesn’t take much for tempers to flare.” “Temper” (temper) refers to your emotion, especially anger.

If we say someone has a “bad temper,” we mean that person gets angry very easily. When we’re talking about two or more people, we would use the plural, “tempers,” plus this verb “to flare” (flare). For “tempers to flare” means for people to become very angry very quickly. The idea of the verb “to flare” means to appear suddenly, and that’s what happens when people get angry, of course. Sometimes they suddenly start yelling and screaming.

Well, Oscar says, “That never happens in my family.” Priscilla is surprised. She says, “What?! Your family doesn’t fight when it gets together?” Oscar says, “No, we try to sweep things under the rug and put on a brave face.” The expression “to sweep (sweep) something under the rug (rug)” means to ignore something – to pretend that it didn’t happen or to hide it.

The second expression, “to put on a brave (brave) face,” means to pretend to be stronger, braver, and/or calmer than you actually are. If you’re in a stressful situation or a situation where you might react emotionally, “putting on a brave face” would be to pretend that you are calm, that you are not bothered by the situation. It’s another form of pretending to be something that you’re not.

Well, in Oscar’s family, when there are disagreements within the family at a family gathering, people “put on a brave face.” They don’t get emotional about it, in this case. Priscilla says, “What happens when you get mad at each other?” Oscar says, “Nothing.” Priscilla says, “What do you mean nothing?” Oscar responds, “A lot of our family meals are eaten in stony silence.” “Stony (stony) silence” would be a period of time when people who are angry with each other don’t talk to each other.

You’ve seen this, I’m sure, and have experienced it. If you go to a restaurant and you see a man and a woman sitting there eating, not talking to each other the whole time, we would describe that perhaps as a situation of “stony silence.” Maybe they’re mad at each other and they don’t want to talk to each other, although nowadays it’s more likely that you’ll see two people staring at their phones rather than talking to each other, even if they’re not mad at each other.

Priscilla says, “Wow, I think I prefer our knock-down, drag-out fights!” The expression “knock-down, drag-out” refers to a very serious argument that continues over a long time. Priscilla is saying that she prefers her family’s way of dealing with anger, which is to yell at each other, rather than Oscar’s family’s way of dealing with it, which is simply to stop talking to each other.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Oscar: So you’re back from your mother’s birthday dinner. How was it?

Priscilla: Same old, same old. It isn’t a family gathering without a major meltdown or blowup.

Oscar: Yikes, what happened?

Priscilla: You know how it is. It starts out with bickering and somebody taking offense at some slight or dig, or bringing up some old grievance.

Oscar: Well, that happens in most families.

Priscilla: Yeah, but in mine, they often turn into screaming matches. We all raise our voices and somebody always storms out.

Oscar: Even at your mother’s birthday dinner?

Priscilla: The occasion doesn’t matter. My mother tries to be the peacemaker, but it doesn’t take much for tempers to flare.

Oscar: That never happens in my family.

Priscilla: What?! Your family doesn’t fight when it gets together?

Oscar: No, we try to sweep things under the rug and put on a brave face.

Priscilla: What happens when you get mad at each other?

Oscar: Nothing.

Priscilla: What do you mean nothing?

Oscar: A lot of our family meals are eaten in stony silence.

Priscilla: Wow, I think I prefer our knock-down, drag-out fights!

[end of dialogue]

It’s never the same old, same old with our scripts, thanks to the wonderful writing by our scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
same old, same old – a phrase used to describe something that was uninteresting, unsurprising, and boring, the same as it has always been and as one expected it to be

* The meeting dragged on for hours. It was the same old, same old.

meltdown – an intense show of emotion; when someone, especially a child, loses control of his or her emotions and becomes very angry or sad, often screaming

* Kelly had a major meltdown at work last week. I think she’s experiencing a lot of stress at home and in her job.

blowup – an angry outburst; when someone becomes very angry very quickly and shouts or otherwise acts in an aggressive way against other people

* When the flight was delayed for hours, Carl had a major blowup and started yelling at the airline employees, but he apologized afterward.

yikes – an expression showing surprise and disapproval

* Yikes! Did you see what that driver just did? She almost ran over that mother and baby!

to bicker – to argue; to fight verbally over unimportant things

* The children spent most of the car trip bickering in the back seat.

to take offense – to be offended by something; to become upset and saddened by what another person has said or done

* Do you think the audience will take offense if we put a male actor in a female role?

slight – an insult, especially an unintentional one; words or an action that do not express enough respect for another person

* When Victor didn’t say hello to Sheila at the store, she interpreted it as a slight and became very upset.

dig – a critical or mocking (making fun of someone) remark or statement; something said to make another person feel bad, or to make others laugh and look down upon that person

* “Some people just don’t know how to dress well,” said Ahmed, in an obvious dig at his neighbor.

grievance – a complaint; something that one views as being unfair or a source of mistreatment, and remains upset about

* The employees voiced their grievances in a meeting with the managers.

screaming match – a loud argument in which two people are screaming or yelling at each other, each trying to be louder than the other to make his or her words be heard

* It sounds like the neighbor is having another screaming match with her son.

to raise (one’s) voice – to shout or yell; to speak in a louder-than-usual voice, especially when one is angry

* In our home, children are not allowed to raise their voices against their parents.

to storm out – to angrily leave a room, especially while stomping feet and slamming doors

* We couldn’t believe that the client actually stormed out of the meeting. What did we do wrong?

peacemaker – someone who tries to end an argument or fight between two or more other people, trying to help people calm down

* Psychologists can help people understand each other’s viewpoints, but they aren’t really supposed to be peacemakers.

for tempers to flare – for people to become very angry very quickly

* The lawmakers were discussing a controversial topic that made tempers flare.

to sweep (something) under the rug – to ignore something and pretend it hasn’t happened or doesn’t matter

* They have some major problems in their marriage. They can’t just sweep these things under the rug.

to put on a brave face – to pretend to be stronger, braver, and calmer than one actually is

* Mariah was devastated when her husband died, but she had to put on a brave face for her children.

stony silence – a period of time when angry people do not speak with each other, creating an uncomfortable silence

* They lived in stony silence for two days before Lan finally apologized.0

knock-down, drag-out – a serious argument that continues for a long time

* They’ve been in a knock-down, drag-out fight all evening.

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Priscilla mean when she says that the dinner was “same old, same old”?
a) Mostly old people attended the event.
b) Her mother is now one year older.
c) Nothing interesting or unexpected happened.

2. Which of these is the loudest?
a) Bickering
b) Screaming matches
c) Sweeping things under the rug

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
dig

The word “dig,” in this podcast, means a critical or mocking (making fun of someone) remark or statement intended to make another person feel bad, or to make others laugh and look down upon that person: “We were shocked by how the chairperson made digs at the other board members who weren’t present at the meeting.” When referring to the sciences, a “dig” is an excavation, when people dig up the ground to find things: “How many fossils did you find on your last paleontological dig?” Or, “The archeological dig yielded many pieces of interesting pottery.” Informally, the word “digs” can refer to one’s apartment: “Come over and check out my new digs.” Finally, the phrase “to dig into (something)” can mean to start eating: “Let’s dig into that casserole!”

to storm out

In this podcast, the phrase “to storm out” means to angrily leave a room, especially while stomping feet and slamming doors: “When Heather was seven years old, her father stormed out of the house and never came back.” The phrase “to weather a storm” means to survive a difficult experience without being harmed badly: “This home is old, but it will weather this storm.” The phrase “to take (a place) by storm” means to be very successful: “That new actress took Broadway by storm.” Finally, the phrase “to (do something) up a storm” means to do a lot of something with significant energy and enthusiasm: “Each year, they cook up a storm for Thanksgiving.”

Culture Note
The Burr-Hamilton Duel

Former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and former Vice-President Aaron Burr fought in a famous “duel” in 1804, in what became one of the most well-known personal conflicts in U.S. history. A “duel” is a formal fight between two people at an “arranged” (planned in advance) time with agreed-upon rules and “weapons” (tools for fighting and killing, such as swords and guns).

Burr and Hamilton were political enemies and strongly disliked each other, and Hamilton wrote some “scathing” (very critical) “remarks” (comments; statements) about Burr when Burr was a candidate to be the governor of New York. Burr became very angry and “challenged Hamilton to a duel” (invited Hamilton to participate in a duel with him). Hamilton chose the location and the weapons.

On July 11, 1804, the men “rowed” (moved a boat by pushing “oars” (long sticks with a flat end)) against the water) across the Hudson River to New Jersey. They “took their positions” (stood in their spots) and the “witnesses” (people who heard and/or saw what happened) stated that they heard two “shots” (instances of a gun firing). Burr’s bullet hit Hamilton in the “abdomen” (belly or stomach area). Many people believe that Hamilton’s shot “missed” (did not hit) Burr “on purpose” (intentionally).

Hamilton died the next day. Burr was “charged with murder” (taken to a court of law under accusations of killing someone). The “trial” (when a lawsuit is heard in court) never happened, but the duel nevertheless ended Burr’s “political career” (professional work in politics).

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b