Moving from Indiana to Minnesota 14 years ago was an experience in itself.  Although I was technically still in the midwest, I had no idea Minnesotans had their own language and their own way of doing things that were quite different to what I was used to.

 One of the biggest problems I faced as a 911 dispatcher working in Minnesota was being unfamiliar with the terminology Minnesotans use.   I have been the source of entertainment for many a coworker as I have tried to stumble my way through terminology that has baffled and confused me.   I consider myself a fairly intelligent individual and it truly dumbfounded me that I didn’t understand many of the words that were being thrown at me.  I honestly wondered if I had moved to a foreign land without realizing it. 

Example #1

     It takes a while to get used to a new state,  geographically speaking.   Unfamiliar with the names of the cities in the area, I did the best I could when under pressure.  While training at Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department, an officer ran a license plate for a vehicle registration.  This wasn’t an odd request by any means.  Running license plates is a common occurence in dispatch.  Not being new to this type of request or reading a registration back to an officer,  I keyed the mic to read it back to him ~ failing to read it myself first.  BIG mistake.  If there is one sure-fire way to embarrass yourself in this business ~ not reading a call or registration prior to airing it is it.  I read back the plate, the expiration date on the tabs, the vehicle make model and year, the registered owner’s name, street address and ….oh….(pause on the air as I am mentally thinking “how do you say the name of that city???”)   Well, I did what any normal person would do.  I sounded it out!    Can’t be all that tough, it was only 9 letters for goodness sake!  I gave it my best shot, and really thought I had nailed it and got it right.  I sat back in my chair (pretty proud of myself) and noticed my trainer giggling.  In fact, several of the dispatchers were giggling.  Nothing entertains dispatchers more than someone screwing up on the air.  I even detected a hint of laughter in the officer’s voice as he gave me his response of “copy” on the air.  The city name was Mahtomedi.   Unfortunately, “sounding it out”  made me sound like an idiot.  I pronounced it as “Ma-tom-ed-ee”.  I wasn’t even close.  It is actually pronounced “Mah-ta-meee-de-eye”.  Granted, it could have been worse, but being a dispatcher in training, the last thing you want to do in front of your peers is sound like a moron.

Example #2

     I was in training for about 3 weeks at Ramsey County when a better job offer came through from Bloomington Police Department.  After much consideration, I accepted the job offer with Bloomington PD.  Once I made it through training and was on my own as a 911 dispatcher, I endured quite a few problems with terminology.  Other dispatchers can attest to the fact that working with a rookie dispatcher just out of training as your partner can be a trying experience for all involved.  As a rookie, I was trying to prove myself a worthy “partner” to the other dispatchers in the center and to the officers on the street.  One of the veteran dispatchers, I will call her Lucy, had the joy of working with me as a partner on one of my first shifts out on my own. (Lucky her!)  After sending the squads on a vehicle accident, one of the officers requested a tow for the vehicle involved (simple enough) and “flow dry.”  Not having a clue what “flow dry” was, I asked him to repeat it.  Surely I heard him wrong.  Again he said “flow dry”.  I looked at Lucy and said “What?  What does he want?  What is flow dry?  Is it flow dry or floor dry?”  I continued to babble while Lucy looked at me like I was quite possibly the dumbest person on the face of the earth and here she was not only stuck in a room alone with me, but had to count on me if the sh** hit the fan anytime soon.  She rolled her eyes dramatically (I’m pretty sure she saw her brain in the process), refused to answer me, and turned back to what she was doing.  In her defense, I’m sure she wondered how on earth I made it through nearly 3 months of training without ever hearing the words “floor dry”.  I guessed the officer meant sand, but I didn’t know for sure and the last thing you want to do as a rookie is screw up.  I called the towing company and requested the tow and mentioned that the officer also needed flow dry.  The person on the other end paused and then said “oooh, flooooor dry…yeah, sure, we can bring that.”  Lucy never clued me in on what floor dry was, but I did find out it was sand they were asking for.  In Indiana, we simplified things and well, quite frankly, called a spade a spade.  Unfortunately, there were more difficulties with terminology in my future.    

Example #3

     A few months later, after settling into my job a little more, I was hit with another Minnesota term I was unfamiliar with.  It was during the winter and we had a fresh layer of snow (maybe a few inches) on the ground.  I took a call from an angry homeowner complaining about a couple of kids in a truck “whippin’ shitties.”  Momentarily stunned and obviously confused, I questioned the caller again about what these juveniles were doing.  My first thought involved the  possibility of kids throwing feces.  Well, that certainly would make me angry too and yes, that is a problem!   I also wondered what kind of place I had moved to where children did this???   The caller, frustrated with someone who didn’t “speak the language” (English), told me “You know….  Whippin’ shitties…  Driving in circles in the lot real fast and spinning out…” in a tone that indicated I was a complete idiot.  My response (grateful that the call did not involve feces in any way) was “Ooooohhhh…  You mean doing donuts?  Okay…  We will send an officer out when we have one clear.”  (Sigh….)  Honestly, who came up with whippin’ shitties???

Example #4

     Perhaps the most entertaining of all is a call involving fire.  I was working dogwatch (11:00pm – 7:00am), a shift that the majority of rookies get “stuck” on due to lack of seniority.  I was on dogwatch for many, many years.  I took a call in the early morning hours from a male caller reporting a satellite on fire in one of the city parks.  My first thought was “what is a satellite tv dish doing in the middle of a park ~ and why is it on fire?”  When I questioned the caller about what exactly was on fire in the park, in an excited tone he said ” you know, the satellite….oh wow, it’s really burning….you know where I am right?”  His location wasn’t the problem.  At all.  I just had no idea what was on fire.  I continued to say “the satellite is on fire?” just as he continued to confirm that “yes (dumbass), the s-a-t-e-l-l-i-t-e, is on fire!!!”.  When I dumbly said “what do you mean “the satellite???”, he finally came up with an alternate word for it.  (Yay!  Perhaps I would understand this one!)  He said  “Yeah, the biffy!”  Oh. My.  Lord….  Would this dilemma never end???  Does anyone around here speak English???  As my partner heard me struggling to understand what a satellite or a biffy was, he helped me out by telling me “Hey (stupid) – it’s a port-a-potty!!!!”  When I asked the caller if it was in fact a port-a-potty on fire, he excitedly said “Yes!!!  Yes!!!  That’s right!  The PORT-A-POTTY!”  As time consuming as this conversation sounds, it really went pretty fast.  I was a little relieved to hear that no, they don’t have satellite dishes in the parks so people could watch television here in Minnesota.  But I  was sad to learn of another term I had no clue existed.  As I toned out the fire department, I proudly aired the location of the park and the problem (a port-a-potty on fire) three times per protocol.  I’m sure those firefighters wondered what kind of dimwit says “port-a-potty” on the fire main!  

     Language barriers, on either side of the line, can be a real problem in this field.  Thankfully, for those that truly do not speak English, dispatchers have the option of using Language Line.  This is a service that can get an interpreter on the line quickly to translate for the caller and the call-taker.  Unfortunately for me, they do not have a translator available that speaks Minnesotan.  As the years have gone by, I have gotten better and no longer make such a fool of myself (at least in terms of language issues).  Every once in a while something funny pops up though.  Thankfully my coworkers are more apt to help me out now that I have proven myself to them.  It helps to have things like this to laugh about.  It helps to know we’re all on the same team in here.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, believe me, you leave the job to others.