Ok, so it’s now well documented that, despite his Texan drawl, JFK got his statement spot on and sadly for humourists everywhere, he did not, in reality, proclaim himself a jelly dough nut!
Many years ago I decided to try and communicate with denizens of each country in their own languages. Many have pleaded with me to stop, but, to this day I still think its polite and that I would like to do my bit for improving the image that we Englishers never learn to speak foreign.
I do not have a gift for languages, the polyglottal tongue is most definitely not mine.
I am the Destroyer of dialects and I’ve been at it for a while, humiliating myself with contorted tongue at all four corners of the globe.
So, without further ado, 5 of my worst language mistakes.
If only I’d learnt from them.
Still at school, French class.
“what must you do,” explained the teacher “is use the expression I must.”.
Simple enough, said the confident voice in my head. Just get the “must” bit right and I know that! Answer right, win gold star, accept adulation be marvelous!.
I must go home and feed the cat, I thought. Je dois, je dois, je dois…
“je dois rentrer à la maison et nourrir le chat ! “ I should have said.
“je dois rentrer à la maison et manger le chat ! “ I announced in my very best ‘allo ‘allo, Pepe Le Pew accent.
Very loudly and with much smugness.
The teacher exploded, many of the other kids joined in the guffaws.
For all you non French speakers I had just exclaimed “I must go home and eat the cat!” to the amusement of many.
The class finally settled and the French mistress looked me straight in the eye and deadpanned:
“you must get through a lot of cats”.
Next, having not learnt the lesson to not show off I found myself attempting to reinforce a newly learnt word by using it as much as possible.
Dinner appointment with German suppliers. Profits have become tighter and the euro rate isn’t helping. Perfect time to show off my German and curry some goodwill.
We meet, pleasantries exchanges and introductions are made. Seats are taken.
“Sprechen sie Deutsche Herr Baboon?”
“ja ein bisschen ich lerne”. A bit, I’m learning, I replied. So far so good.
with a stereotypical promptness the waiter arrived.
“Mein herrs Kann ich Ihnen etwas zu trinken“ or something like that, do we want drinks is his inquiry and the orders begin rolling in.
My turn came, I am there in the foreign zone. Ready, practicing, repeating in the back of my head over and over, awaiting the big moment for my new word. Oh mouth, don’t fail me now!
“hmmm…” I began, feigning thought as if the words I would utter were spontaneous.
“I am thirsty… and I would like to have a sparkling water and a beer please”.
”Ich bin durst ( another feined pause for thought) und ich möchte ein Mineralwasser mit Gasse und ein Bier, bitte” I would say.
My strategic pause was ruined by an unexpected eruption of laughter.
“Ich bin Wurst“ I had begun; announcing to the waiter and the assembled throng not that i was thirsty but, i was, in fact, a sausage.
They say only the Chinese dialects are harder to learn than Greek. I cling to that and ask you bear it in mind.
I like my coffee unsweetened. The correct way to order this is “sketo” (scare-toe)
For three days I sat, every morning, in a well known hotel chain and ordered my black unsugared coffee to the much amused server. Each encounter resulted in a snigger and suppressed smile. It wasn’t until the final morning as I checked out when the kind lady from the helpdesk and in a supreme act of pity came to me like a saviour and corrected my pronunciation.
I had been ordering my coffee “skato” (scar-toe). A nonsense word who’s closest real word would be skata (scar-ta).
She explained with kindness and sympathy I’d spent three days, much to their amusement, telling them every morning I’d like a coffee.
And I’d like it “shitty”.
xeroumenh (hair-roo-mare-knee) to be glad. (female)
“are you glad?”. An innocent question where one would hope for a positive response.
Are you glad/happy/ pleased with that which I have given you.
That was all I wanted to ask of my largest and most important client. A polite gesture in a phonecall to a lady who had been very supportive of my attempts to learn her language.
“Eisai xeroumenh me afta?” (ee-say hair-roo-mare-knee) are you pleased with that I aimed for.
“Eisai xerimounh me afta?” (ee-say hairy-moo-knee) was how I shot wide.
I heard the scream of laughter as my own inner sense of acute embarrassment kicked in.
I knew I’d just used one of the forbidden words and both phones went down simultaneously.
I was mortified
You see, “Mouni” is greek slang… for… vagina.
I was fairly certain I’d just asked if her most intimate area was hirsute or kept tidy!
I was, again, wrong.
Later that day she recovered enough to call me back and explain that I’d forgotten that “xeri” (hairy) is Greek for hand, so, I’d actually said “hand-vagina” asking, by implication, if she was so glad she was masturbating.
there’s pleased and then there’s pleased!
Speaking English as a foreign language.
A decade away from Blighty, this fair isle of ours, and much change occurs, both in society and, to accommodate new trends and activities, the content of the English language.
Sometimes I hear a new term and I know what it means, for example I understood “Vlogging” was not a punishment German pirates received.
Other terms, usually emanating from the young, I still don’t have a clue. There are cultural references to things that came and went without my ever hearing of them.
I grew up with canines around the house.
Sundays were the days for exercising the hound. Long walks through rolling country.
The ramblers right of way laws meaning great freedom for walking the family mutt. These laws often come under challenge and walkers of all purpose come together under the banner “ramblers” to help ensure this right to roam.
I’ve never liked the term rambler, seems to have some negative connotation for me.
Also, the term Dog-walker is a bit of a mouthful.
I had heard a term and I had logically assumed these groups had rebranded or come up with new snappier name for themselves.
I was wrong, so very, very wrong.
I’d like a dog. I’d always had dogs. I like walking a dog.
Walking a dog, as it turns out, is not “going dogging”.
Stopped in the street whilst baboons kids are stroking strangers dog and Mrs Baboon and I are chatting with the owners.
“We love dogs,” I started, “I’d love to have one around the house, but, the wife’s worried about the little one” referencing smallest baboon baby.
“Me,” I continued “I’m not at all concerned. Right breed+ Right breeder + Right owner = happy, safe dog.” The other couple nodded sagely in agreement.
“when I was a kid my mum and I would go dogging every Sunday and it would be a shame if my kids don’t have the chance to be doggers too!”
“he’s always on about it.” agreed Mrs. Baboon.
I googled dogging when i got home.
I don’t think that couple will stop and speak to strangers ever again.