Language

This is week four: fourth city, fourth country, fourth language, fourth culture, fourth currency. Fifth if you count Denmark!

I realized early on that I would be lost moving languages so frequently. Just when you get the hang of ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, and maybe can think about making out a few signs, you’ve moved on (Captain Obvious strikes again).

In chatting with Dunc in Gdansk, I also realized that I needed to get over myself and just say “hello”, tipping my hand as a stupid Anglo when I need some help/service etc. I’m not a languages natural or a superhero. I can try a bit harder to learn some basic words/phrases, yes, but no way I’m going to become fluent in the 6.5 days I have in each place. So far it’s been fine getting around in English with some ‘thank yous’ in the local language, sign language, etc. Better in some places than others. Maybe my trepidation and feeling-like-an-Anglo-asshole is the result of living in Montreal so many years? But there’s no way I can pretend to “pass” in Polish. Or Swedish. Or…etc.

As amusing as some of the Swedish and Danish was to my stupid Anglo eyes (most esp. the mobile phone ad in the Copenhagen airport that included “mere fart”. Apparently, I share my sense of humour with a 10 year old), the biggest challenge so far was last week when Cyrillic was thrown into the mix. It was actually developed in Bulgaria, by the followers of these guys:

Saints Cyril and Methodius. "What's that, Boris I? You want a script for the Bulgarian people? We can certainly get that started."

Dunc had the benefit of over a month in places where Cyrillic was dominant and was pretty good at sounding things out – Cyrillic is phonetic, so once you know the sounds of the alphabet you can work out how the words sound. And a surprising number of them sound similar to a French or English word. Not all… but a surprising number.

I, however, did not fare that well. Dunc would repeatedly sound out things for me, explaining what each letter was. He would then ask me what a sign said. I never got it, though, and kept protesting that I needed a chance to sit down and learn the alphabet. Which I also never got around to, since I’m a jerk and was just too busy eating. I did, however, learn the casual “thanks”: mersi. Easy!

We’re back with a familiar alphabet this week in Romania. And lots of words look and sound deceptively close to French and/or Italian. It is a romance language, after all (and Wikipedia does say that there’s a fair few words borrowed from both languages ). I’m still hopeless. While I can understand (and say) “pardon” when slipping all over snowbanks and icy streets, and could figure out that the cutting knife I wanted to buy was four lei (sounded like “quatre”), that’s about it so far.

As for my understanding of the Chekov play I went to see on Tuesday, in Romanian… well, that’s for another post. Right now I need to get ready to take care of the cutest one-year-old on tour for a bit. Hurray being a lady who lunches! Even if that lunch consists of a hotel room sandwich, courtesy of the knife and groceries I bought earlier today…

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One Response to Language

  1. Christine says:

    As long as you don’t yell everything in an effort to make people understand what you’re saying, you’re probably a good step or two up from being the asshole tourist everyone dreads — smaller likelihood of spittle showing up in your food, too.

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