Sunday, October 9, 2011
What Language am I Speaking?
The other day after having Ethiopian coffee with our maid and a friend of mine, my friend commented on how well I spoke bad English. It's true, I have found that the easiest way for me to communicate with some of the people here that speak very little English is to slaughter the English language. In my head, I can see every English teacher I ever had cringing when I do this. I also use my hands so much to describe things when I'm talking that I even catch myself doing it when I'm talking on the telephone. It's like constantly playing charades. As far as the slaughtered English goes, I basically have to take the few words I know the person I am speaking to understands to say what would normally take me several words to relay if I were speaking properly. Imagine the old Tarzan line "Me Tarzan, you Jane," and that's what I feel like I sound like. Contractions especially, go out the window. I learned this quick with our maid. I couldn't figure out why every time I would say something like "don't clean this room" or "don't clean this floor" she would not only clean what I asked her not to, but it would be super cleaned. So, now I have to say things like "no clean this room" or "no clean this floor".
In addition to speaking bad English, our whole family especially my son has started adding Arabic phrases to our English sentences. My son loves to plead his many cases to me by throwing in a "wallah Mom, wallah", which means "I promise by God" or "I swear". There's also the term we Americans all use to be sarcastic, because we hear it all the time from locals when we need something done. The phrase is "insha'Allah", which translates to "if God wills it". This phrase is what I call the scapegoat phrase. When it is thrown in at the end of a sentence when someone is saying they will do something, it means it isn't their fault if they don't follow through with it. It clearly didn't happen, because God didn't will it to be done. A perfect example is how we waited to get cable and internet here for 2 months, and every time we called the cable company they would tell us that some one would be out on a certain date "insha'Allah". Each time, they would never show up. I joked for 2 months saying that God must really not want us to have cable. Another favorite phrase of mine here that just cracks me up is "same same" or "same same, but different". It's English, I know, but it is used seriously by almost everyone except true English speakers here. Again, my family along with other westerners use this to be sarcastic or funny, because we hear it here daily. A good example would be one day we had a leaky sink, because a ring fitting under the sink had cracked. The plumber that came out to the house assured me he was going to go buy a new ring and bring it back to install it, but he needed to take the old ring with him to make sure he got the right one. Anyways, he came back a couple hours later with the same old broken ring that he had placed some clay like substance on to "fix it". I got the "see same same", as he tried to tell me it was the same as a new one. I had to tell the guy my stepdad is a plumber, and I'm not an idiot. I had to throw in a little broken English too with a "No, not same same."
Thanks to all the Brits and Aussies that live here, we have also picked up a lot of what I like to call "Brit speak". We do this, because we have to, not because we want to. If you're in a grocery store and ask for a cart they look at you with a blank stare. A "cart" is a "trolley". Also, we do not wait in "lines" here, we wait in "queues". "Garbage" is "rubbish". The list goes on, and I can't stand when I have to give in and use language that makes me sound like Mary Poppins. I'll also spare you on how a lot of English words here are spelled Brit style with extra vowels.
In addition to broken English and Arabic, we are also using more French than we have in the past. Those of you that know me, know that I have been correcting the kids in French since they were toddlers. I started it when they were young, because I wanted a way to correct them in public without everyone knowing what I was saying to them. Now, they are both taking French in addition to Arabic, so they try to test their French skills on me. For years, the French they knew consisted of phrases like "tais toi"(be quiet) or "asseyez -vous maintenant"(sit down now). My son now loves to say things like "Je suis beau." or "Je suis intelligent." For the non- French speakers, that is "I am handsome." and "I am intelligent." He usually throws out one of these sentences when I try to speak French to them to back up what they are learning at school. If he doesn't know what I'm saying or asking him, he'll give me a "Je suis beau". He also likes to confuse things by switching from French to Spanish when he's speaking, because he took Spanish up until we moved here and he had to switch to French and Arabic.
While it can be confusing at times, and I have to give more thought to what or how I'm saying something than I would if I were in the states, I'm enjoying the lessons in communication we are getting here. What better way to understand people that are different than you, than to be able talk to communicate with them even if it drives you a little nuts at times.