Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bad language

Diary of a genetically unmodified traveller: #4: Bad language (Please don’t throw hotel guests down the stairs their towels!)


Robert L. Fielding

Holidays abroad are always fun – they give you a complete change in almost everything – culture – food- drink- temperature, and language – the English language.

As far as the lingo used by the natives wherever you are, the best you can hope for in 2 weeks in ‘iki bira, lutfen’ or ‘tuvalet nerde?’ but you will certainly have problems with English now and then – not the Queen’s variety but theirs.

Don’t get me wrong, I congratulate any foreigner for even attempting my language in the country of their own - you come to Oldham and try to get anybody to speak so much as one syllable of Spanish, Italian or Greek!

The spoken variety of English is fine – after all, we have the non-linguistic clues that accompany most utterances.  A man clutching his posterior is hardly likely to be asking for directions for the nearest Post Office, is he – and it works both ways.  You ask for whatever it is you want by standing in front of it and pointing at it.  

It is the written variety that causes the non-plussed look on the face of the quest.

Take the simple word ‘mere’ , instantly understood in the phrase ‘a mere acquaintance’  - ‘just a friend’ but much more puzzling in the phrase ‘shaving mere’ as in the instructions – ‘Please don’t cut yourself- use the shaving mere!’

Similarly, ‘lays’ seems like an unusual word, but is quite common as the opposite of ‘gemmen’ and found over the doors of respective facilities.

Next come the instructions in your hotel room – again in a variety of written English guaranteed to prevent you from getting to sleep.

Take for instance, ‘If you do not require heat in your room, control yourself!’ or ‘In case of fire, alarm the landlady!’ – who can sleep staring at them?

In the foyer – the ‘fire ‘ we get asked; ‘Please leave your values with us!’ – and finally, as Dennis Norden is fond of saying, ‘If this is your first visit to Moscow, you are welcome to it!’

Robert Leslie Fielding



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