My mother Karola’s introduction to colloquial English posed some awkward and baffling moments for her. With a German background she wanted to embrace American customs and fit into the culture she had just entered.

Neighbors near her residence introduced themselves, engaged in friendly chitchat, and signed off with a casual and cheerful “See you later.” Karola was buoyed by their hospitable demeanor and acknowledgement of her. She optimistically prepared a pot of coffee in anticipation, along with an accompaniment of kaffeeklatsch nibbles. Then she waited and waited…and waited. Nobody showed up. She felt confused and stood up. When her husband Bill came home she could not hide her hurt and disappointment while telling him what happened. Once he heard her repeat their words “see you later” he smiled and shrugged with empathy. He revealed that it was simply an expression, another way to say “goodbye for now.”

Such was her initiation into American multiple meanings!