Sunday, May 23, 2010

Speaking the Language

When in a foriegn country, it always helps to speak the language. This may seem obvious but speaking the language helps in some not so obvious ways.

In India, I picked up some Bengali (mostly what I needed to work at All Bengal Women's Union - things like 'sit' and 'be quiet' and 'stop hitting'). And though a large majority of the population of India speaks at least a little English, ordering your oranges in Bengali always gets you brownie points. And discounts.

I would ask after the price of a fruit in english and then say 'du-toe' ('two please' or rather, without the please. Indians don't really say please as a general rule) which would, more often then not, knock a few rupees off my price. Especially after I would tell them 'Amee bangla sheek-bo'; 'I am learning Bengali'.

I would always delight the girls at All Bengal ever morning when, after their cold showers, they would rush in and press their freezing hands to my face, I would shout 'oh Baba! Ki thanda!" Which means 'Oh father! How cold!" and just happens to rhyme.

At a train station on my way to Darjeeling I had my arms all henna-ed up because the girls at All Bengal had done it as a goodbye present. In among the designs was the words 'paagli-didi' which means 'crazy older sister'; what the girls used to call me and my friend Amanda. A guy at a coffee stand asked me if I knew my arms proclaimed that I was insane and I told him the story. He bought me a coffee and wanted to shake my hand for caring so much about the girls that I let them vandalize my arms for the better part of two weeks.

In Korea, its no different. People are just more helpful if you make the effort to try and speak their language, even if you fail at it completely. The little kids love it especially. The four year olds, Apricot, were delighted the other day when I layed this beauty on them: 'yeogi'. Which means 'here'. They would say it all the time - "Teacher, yeogi? Teacher, yeogi?" - but when I would respond 'yeogi!' They would just crack up.

"Teacher is speaking Korean!" They would shout, like they were trying to tell on me.

The next one I am going to try out is 'Hajima juseyo' which means 'stop it, please'. Very useful. BUT! risky considering the fact that 'Ajima' means 'old lady' and 'Hajiman' means 'except'. One false move and I will no longer be taken seriously. I must perfect it on random Koreans on the street before I use it on my students.

Even in Germany, when we lived in Seehiem-Jugenheim, I would always make a point to order things from the local shops in German if possible. One time at the ice cream shop down the street that was run by an italian couple, I asked for 'ein kugel, bitte': "one scoop, please". The man asked me, in English, what flavor I wanted and I responded in German that I wanted the chocolate. He seemed slightly amused then and said "You know, I speak English." to which I replied "Yeah, but I speak German!"

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