24/04/2018 to 01/05/2018
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad. The countdown continues.
So I’m absolutely crushing technology now! Got the system of logging in to the website and editing/creating (?) down to a fine art. Those folks at customer support might even start to miss me? Bill Gates….be afraid! But wait, I still can’t put photos in the right place, and that could take a while to learn, although I have managed to change the default picture that was the header for the site from an unusual looking pot plant to the landscape sunset. That still isn’t the pic of choice, I do know what I want to do, but it involves the new bicycle complete with all it’s ‘accoutrements’ that I won’t have until July. Your patience would be appreciated.
Anyway, what’s this about language? Nothing about foul language I can assure you. The language I mean is the fun that can be had when learning a new tongue and making mistakes, but also the way the natives in the United Kingdom, where I’m from, and the United States of America, and Australia to a lesser extent, use the same language so very differently. It can lead to loads of confusion, but also a lot of fun if you have a sense of humour.
I have spent time in the US before and will be back again soon. Some things just have to be said differently or you will not be understood. Now I would like to stress that I had a great time ‘over the pond’ back in 2006 and I am extremely confident that I will have a similarly great time later this year. Please, please, please take the following blog in the correct spirit which is about laughing at how we do things differently. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were all the same? I will poke fun at ‘Americanisms’ but I will also poke an equal amount of fun at us Brits. But it is our language ok? See, I’ve started already.
The first recollection I’m going to share will point the finger squarely at me during my first visit to San Francisco those 12 years ago. As a devotee of liquid nectar, aka Guinness, I had done an internet search for Irish pubs and found a place called the Irish Bank. Apparently the building used to house a bank so not a lot of ingenuity in the name but the staff were excellent and the Guinness superb so what’s in a name?
So I’m sitting there at the bar one night chatting to 2 ladies who were there on holiday from Canada. At one point in the evening they decided they were going outside to have a cigarette and asked me to keep their bar stools for them. “I’ll guard them with my life”, was my comment as they went outside. No more than 2 minutes later a guy wanders over and asks if anyone is using their bar stools. Without thinking I came out with, “yes 2 ladies are using them, but they’ve just gone outside to smoke a fag”. (Could I have picked a worse place to say that?) As the words were coming out of my mouth I realised that all might not be well, but they came out anyway! The blood immediately drained from my face, the guy asking the question doubled in size, and I seriously thought that my time on this mortal coil was about to end very abruptly.
Fortunately part of my brain was still functioning and I quickly blurted out, “I’m really sorry, I’m English, I’m a tourist and I didn’t mean what you think I mean” and I shut my eyes and waited for the inevitable. To my complete and utter astonishment, not to mention relief, he came out with, “hey man, I’d heard you people talk like this but I didn’t believe it. Let me buy you a drink!” Having scraped myself off the floor I thanked him profusely and stuttered, “oh, oh, oh thank you, a pint of cy..cy..cyanide, er, I mean Guinness, would be great”. He then orders the Guinness for me and introduces me to all his friends and tries to get me to repeat what I’d said. Not a chance! I let him do that. It turned out that they all played rugby which is a passion of mine and a great evening ensued, we all got on famously, and I eventually escaped with body intact.
So I’ve confessed to my faux pas in San Francisco so that leaves me free to poke fun, only gently folks, at some others. In America you have ‘Math’. What’s that all about? Have you only got one of them? It’s Mathematics! Maths. With an ‘S’. And how do you guys travel when you only get the date right 12 times a year? (1/1, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5 etc. etc.) I also distinctly remember being in New York and asking a bartender, “Can I have a Guinness please?” His reply was, “What’s a ‘Guinness please’?” It would appear that New Yorkers don’t ever use the word ‘please’, so I said to him, “Sorry, just remembered where I am, gimme a Guinness” and he served me immediately, and without batting an eyelid.
But then you all go and redeem yourselves with the best Americanism of all which is ‘thru’ instead of the British ‘through’. No wonder folks who are trying to learn British English have such a hard time. The ‘ough’ parts of words and the many different ways to pronounce them must be mind blowing? I’ll come back to that another time. There’s an urban myth that goes around in my home county of Leicestershire that an Australian tourist had arrived at Derby station and said to a porter, “G’day mate, which platform for ‘Low gu burr oh gah!’ Easily done when the place he wanted is spelt Loughborough and is pronounced, ‘Luff bu ruh’.
Back to me, and now my hopelessness with Lao language. 11 years here and just never got it. I could maybe speak about 20/30% of the language but when it was coming back at me at a zillion miles an hour I just couldn’t keep up. The tones are what makes it so difficult for a Western ear and I have great admiration for the foreigners who did get it. My most embarrassing episode with Lao, and there were many, involved my neighbours daughter, Lanoi. Their house was almost directly opposite mine and from the age of 2 Lanoi and big brother Josh, who then would have been 6, would always come outside when they heard my motorbike or me open the gate and I would talk to them as best I could.
One day, when Lanoi was about 3 and a half, I was coming round the corner on the motorbike and she was there proudly holding up a puppy which looked about 7/8 weeks old. My comment was, “Jow mi maa bor”, ‘you’ve got a dog?’. She didn’t say a word but gave me the strangest look. This went on for a few weeks, she would be there holding up the puppy, I would say the same thing, “Jow mi maa bor”, and she would, as usual, give me the same weird look.
One day at work (Blue Bananas, my bar/restaurant, more of that later) I happened to have finished a load of work and had 20/30 minutes to myself so I got the English Lao phrase book out to see if I could add a few more words to my vocabulary. It just so happened that the first page I turned to started with maa = dog. Ok, I know that. However the next word was maa = horse! (There’s also ‘sell’, ‘come’ and another I always forget, all ‘maa’ with slightly different tones) You’re way ahead of me aren’t you?
So I get the girls, my wonderful staff, gathered round saying, “pa saa Lao”, which means ‘Lao language’ and starts them giggling as they know something funny is about to happen. “Please tell me what I’m saying”. Yes, of course, it turns out that I’ve been telling Lanoi, for 6 weeks now, that she’s got a horse! After much practice, of which I can hardly tell the difference, I finally realise that if I clip ‘maa’ a bit shorter the girls were suddenly telling me I was saying ‘dog’. Sounded almost exactly the same to me but I excused myself whilst practising my new pronunciation, jumped on the bike and flew off down the road in the direction of home.
As I rounded the corner, there she was, holding the puppy up to show me although by now it had grown and she could barely get it off the ground. I stopped, took off my helmet and proudly, and it would appear correctly, in my new Lao, told her she had a dog. Lanoi still didn’t say a word, but the look she gave me was very different and told me she was definitely thinking, ‘so maybe you’re not so stupid after all!’
Back to my time in Australia and my visit to Cairns from where I took a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Absolutely stunning and a ‘must do’ for anyone visiting the Land Down Under. So one day I spent exploring Cairns town/city centre and I’m just starting to think about a sit down and blowing the froth off a cold one. Well, it has to be done, doesn’t it? So I turn a corner and there’s a pub, which for some strange reason are called hotels in Oz. Just about to go in and I notice a big ‘A’ board on the pavement with a load of rules and regulations on it. Towards the bottom of the list was ‘No thongs’. (thongs in Australia are flip flops anywhere else) So I turned to the doorman, pointed to the relevant part of the board and asked, “so if I want to come in for a drink who’s going to check my underwear?’ I don’t think he was impressed!
Anyway, it’s getting late and still lots to do with less than a month to go. Getting excited!
As always take care everyone, and may your God go with you,
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.