Still in Călimănești, the next day began with a trip to some Roman ruins. It turns out they were a fair bit more difficult reach than expected, so being distracted by puppies and menaced by angry dogs yesterday to send us home worked out in our favour.
I’ve been in Romania for about a month now, and while my pace of learning Romanian has been glacial at best, I can find no end of enjoyment noticing little quirks of the language that entertain me. Perhaps you will find them mildly amusing also?
I’m not going to spoil anything new in this post. I make reference to The Sixth Sense for instance, Harry Potter, Empire Stikes Back, Citizen Kane, but things nearly everyone knows. I’m steering well clear of anything remotely new, whether it’s Captain America: Civil War or… you know. The show that for a while, everyone agreed to stop spoiling.
I do want to talk about what’s happening all over the internet though. That is to say, otherwise perfectly reasonable people accidentally spoiling things. Including a disturbingly high percentage of you reading this.
While it’s fairly obvious that different languages will have some words that sound like other things to a foreign listener, something that I didn’t really think about until I started communicated regularly with non-native English speakers were that all kinds of things are also different. Some that might be taken for granted and can lead to amusing situations. It does help if you appreciate immature humour, but still.
For example, animal noises. There was a time when I didn’t even realise that different areas of the world would have different onomatopoeias, though there are plenty of articles out there detailing the coolest/most confusing ones these days. One animal that could lead to amusing situations is the dog. You might think ‘bark’ or ‘woof’ or ‘bow wow’ or ‘arf’, but one day I was talking to a Romanian and a Thai, and this came up. Apparently, the main doggie noise for Romanians is ‘ham’.
Thus started a very intellectual volley of ‘ham ham ham’ ‘ham ham ham?’ ‘hamhamhamham!’ and so on, all the while the Thai person was quietly laughing away to themselves. When asked about the hilarity, it wasn’t just because we looked and sounded ridiculous, it was because ‘ham’ in the dog-noise context sounds a lot like regional Thai slang for dick. So be careful, when you least expect it, you could be walking through the streets of Bangkok, try to strike up a conversation with a stray dog, then BAM you look like a crazy person insulting an innocent mutt.
“But…. but why?”
Another common thing you might not have thought about are x’s. You know, the little kisses people put on the end of a text, or IM, that kind of x. Well there were a couple of moments in my communications that amused me to do with end-of-chat-friendly-kisses, at the very least eliciting a sensible chuckle.
First time was when I was talking to someone from the Philippines. I can’t say for certain how common xx’s are there in messages, but the first time I ever used them in communication with one, it was taken to mean similar to a big, sarcastic NOT, negating and reversing the previous sentiment. (basically ending up saying you were terrible company, let’s never hang out again) So in a single masterstroke of having-no-idea-that-this-might-be-not-fairly-universal, I managed to make someone quite sad and confused at my sudden rudeness.
Basically, it went flawlessly.
If only I had been as cool as them.
The second time was talking to a Brazilian Portuguese speaker. While I had previously learned ‘beijos’ as a very common way for Portuguese-speakers say ‘kisses’ in place of x’s to friends and so on, my brain hadn’t logically figured out yet what the shortened form of that might be. (note, beijinhos are ‘little kisses’ and fulfil a similar purpose)
So I did laugh out loud and choke on my milk a little bit one time after a (perfectly innocent!) late night chat ended up with a “good night and lots of bjs”. I *did* let them know of that particular two-letter meaning in English, and we all laughed some more, as people who are awake at too-late-o’clock-AM at night tend to do.
Obviously any misunderstandings (if they can even be called that!) like these are easily rectified with even the smallest amount of communication, but coming across things like this for the first time are always a delight.
I have to say, while I am not good at speaking any language other than English (and perhaps even that is debatable) I always enjoy learning about languages. I find the little differences in accents and phrasing between regions fascinating.
Probably my favourite thing to happen while interacting with people who are speaking non-English languages are when their words happen to sound like unrelated English words through coincidence. I’ll tell you what I mean.
Not that long ago, I was in a room with someone speaking Romanian via Skype. I don’t speak Romanian barring some bare-bones utility, so I wasn’t really paying attention. Then, because brains are designed to register sounds that we understand, my ears perked up at the seemingly out of context repeated uses of “Farty beany” and “Poop poop”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was pretty sure that these meant something, but sometimes toilet humour just catches you by surprise, and I found this hilarious. I mean, ‘farty beany’ couldn’t have been a coincidence right? Beans are notoriously connected to farting!
I investigated after the call was finished, and everything was explained.
My bean-based misunderstanding was actually “foarte bine” which means “very good”. Whatever the rest of the conversation was about, things had clearly been going well, since it was repeated often!
The worrying sounds of ‘poop’ were actually just how to pronounce “pup” (short for “pupici”) meaning “kisses”. It was seemingly difficult to end the conversation, so ‘pup’ was being liberally dropped into the conversation as a hint to say goodbye.
So it all made sense, but it tickled my sense of humour. Best of all, it made these words very memorable. I am unlikely to forget them, compared to the dozens of other words that fade away because I don’t use them. The only danger would be if I was to start speaking Romanian, and get my words mixed up back in Britain. That’s the kind of thing that gets you thrown out places.