Friday, July 25, 2008

Where is the noisome dairy product please?

Don't be put off by the German at the beginning: worth watching

The other day I noticed a piece of paper had blown in from the street into the entrance hallway of our apartment. On it, in blue pencil was written “Ou est le Munster, s.v.p.” Below that, in the same hand, was written “U E ló múnster sil wu plá.”

I pointed this out to Amynah, hypothesising it must have been given by someone to their visiting grandmother, with a phonetic approximation in her native language (Polish? Portuguese?) of how to ask directions to the Cathedral (which would explain why it was discarded in front of our apartment).

Amynah, on the other hand, thought initially thought it was some kind of strange art project : Munster is a Germanic word for Cathedral, but it’s also a kind of stinky Alsatian cheese (though, to be fair, Amynah believes pretty much everything out of the ordinary is evidence of the surrealist art conspiracy).

It’s been a weird week for language. I met up with my friend Caner on Tuesday, for our usual walk-around town and babble-bilingually language exchange. In the email to confirm the meeting, he had sent me an email saying that he couldn’t meet later in the week because he had to “Prepare his case.”

When we met, I explained that while the individual words in that sentence were correct, I assumed that as he’s planning on visiting Turkey next week, he meant to say he was going to pack his suitcase.

This led to further bewilderment on his part: he had thought that a suitcase was what we call a briefcase, reasoning that they were usually carried by men in suits.

Later in the same conversation, he asked me what the word for “cru” was.

“Raw,” I said.

“Ro-a,” he said.

“No… raw,” I said.

“Rar,” he replied.

I this point I started laughing, and explained to him the one of the French words I had the most difficulty pronouncing was “Roi,” which usually comes out of my mouth something like “raw.”

Thus, we spent the next couple of minutes, until our tongues cramped, attempting to nail this down:

Caner: “The “R” has to come from the throat [making elegant French choking sound]… roi!”

Me: Wah!

Him (attempting raw): rawer!

Me: Hhcraw!

Him: Raoer!

Me: Oauhwa!

The other folks on the sidewalk must have thought we had been raised by unusually inarticulate dogs.

* On a related note, I recently learned that “pas terrible” in French does not mean, as one would expect, “Not bad” but actually “awful.” Whereas “terrible” actually means something is good, in the same way that calling Shaft a “Bad motherf**ker” was paying him the highest of compliments. Nonetheless, I find it ironic that my language skill is so poor as to have led to me claiming to have excellent French for the last two years.


Jul said...

Ah, that commercial never gets old.


dmchenail said...

As someone who has struggled with words and accents in several languages.. I feel your pain! The 'pas terrible' vs. 'terrible' is very confusing (I'm still not sure I understand) and your friend is very logical vis a vis the whole suitcase thing.

BTW - your idea of doing a cross-country horseback trail riding/camping trip sounds very cool.