Posts Tagged ‘language’

It was late Sunday evening, and me and Sejin were hungry.  Receiving no answer after phoning a local Sharjah Pizza Hut for delivery, we visited their website and lodged a light-hearted complaint.

Sent: Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:16 PM
To: MENAPAKT PH Customer Care
Subject: Customer Feedback

From: Madam Josh, Yager

Comments : 11pm no delivery? ㅋㅋ I am disappointed. This is infuriating. If you don’t want my money, you should have just said so on your website. Now I have to go eat my money because I can’t have any pizza tonight!

It was Sejin’s quick thinking that cleverly disguised me as a woman.  In the end, I did not follow through on my threat to eat my money that night.  We had some Trix cereal, fell asleep, and generally did everything outside of thinking about Pizza Hut.  The next morning, Sejin found this in her work inbox, since we had regrettably provided her real e-mail address:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 9:57 AM
Subject: FW: Customer Feedback

Dear   Madam Josh,

Thank you for bringing this feedback to our attention and please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience brought by this situation.

Please be informed that by copy of this message, we are forwarding your comments to Mrs. Faten Sabek from Kuwait Food Company, Americana   our Pizza Hut franchise partner in UAE who will be contacting you to discuss further the issue you have raised.

Please do not hesitate to contact us again in the future.

Thanks and regards,
Pizza Hut Customer Care
Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey

It was clear that upper-level management of Pizza Hut felt genuinely hurt that I had chosen to consume my money out of spite.  But they weren’t about to let me keep eating my money, not when they could conceivably convince me to trade it for one of their marginally less nutritious pizzas instead.  I have to commend their business acumen; a lesser company would not have made this connection.

Later in the evening, Sejin received a new e-mail from one Mohamed Yakout, whose mail signature revealed that he was a rogue operative working outside the Pizza Hut bureacracy:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 6:04 PM
From: Mohamed Yakout
Subject: RE: Customer Feedback

Dear Ms. Josh,

Thanks a lot for bringing your feedback about Pizza Hut to my attention but kindly email your contact number in order to get more details from you and take the necessary action.

Best regards,

Mohamed Yakout
Kuwait Food Co. (Americana)

“Take the necessary action?”  My blood ran cold.  I immediately established that the executive bigwigs at Pizza Hut had gotten wind of my complaint and wanted to silence me for good.  Shit, I had gotten in too deep!  They knew they should have made delivery available until at least midnight–they knew it!–but now that I had the power to topple their empire, they had no choice.  Had Pizza Hut really just outsourced a hit on me, Ms. Josh, using this Kuwaiti hired hitman?  Curious to a fault, I told Sejin to go ahead and e-mail her home telephone number to this corporate assassin.

Sejin left for work the next morning.  After she closed the front door, the phone rang down the hallway.  I walked to it, reached down, and picked up the receiver, expecting Sejin had forgotten something.  Maybe she wanted to take some Trix cereal for the work commute.  Maybe she liked Trix as much as I did.  Instead, I was greeted by the raspy voice of Murderin’ Mohamed.

“Hello, can I speak to… Madam… Joshua Yager?”

To be continued…?

 

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“Take care of these two girls,” the hostel owner pulled me aside as we walked into the bar.  This was my job for the night, helping these guests have fun in Istanbul.  Not a serious responsibility, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

After drinking beers and booze and more beers with these two kids in the hostel before we all stumbled out into the night, I had gotten to know a few things about their lives.  They were gap-year girls, traveling from Australia around Europe, sharing costs and experiences.  They were nice kids–just graduated high school, even.  Their plan was to linger in Europe for months, staying with friends along the way.

I hung around outside on the club’s balcony while they danced inside.  It was the usual Turkish fare, astral music sounding more appropriate for a bar on Tatoonie.  Between glasses of raki, Turkey’s national stiff drink, I stared at the city, blanketed in light.  I downed another glass of raki and walked to the bathroom, checking on them as I left.

I didn’t even have time to wash my hands before they approached me in the hall.  They announced that they wanted to go with me to find “bread.”  I looked them over.  There was no hint of joking.  They really wanted bread, and they wanted it now.  We hiked six floors downstairs to the entrance, passing a gay bar outside.

“Josh, can we go to the gay club?”

“No, I’m not gay yet.”

“OK, we’ll go tomorrow.”

Out on the street and on the hunt for “bread,” I led them to a nearby buffet restaurant.  After three weeks in Istanbul, I’ve learned that it’s a cheap place.  More importantly, they also serve bread, the holy grail of our misguided crusade.  I’m a very frequent customer–I eat there almost every day, returning for the low prices and good quality.  It’s a favorite of mine.

“You can look around and see if you like anything. There’s a lot and there’s the bread so maybe–“

“Josh, this food is all shit.  I want a kebap.”

“…OK.  Yeah, let’s go find one.  That’s easy.  They’re everywhere.”

They were everywhere and nowhere.  We weaved through Istiklal, the main thoroughfare for night-life boasting 3,000,000 visitors daily, but nothing seemed to be open.  In the meantime, the girls bargained with an ice cream vendor for a deal, then asked for an extra empty cone to really sweeten the pot.  We took to the sidestreets, the meandering dark alleys and cobblestone paths, hunting down a local shop.  Along the way, one of the girls discovered she had the innante ability to speak to cats, so she made sure to chat with and throw ice cream cones at every stray animal we saw along the way.  With all of this going on, taxis harassing us, drunk men following us, and a litter of cats mewing for more ice cream, our cat whisperer announced that she had to wee.

“Go in the corner next to the cat you fed,” I helpfully suggested.

“That’s not nice.  Oh, there’s a bar here, let’s go in!”

Before I could say no, I was walking into a smoky Turkish lounge bar.  The lighting was subdued candlelight.  A female singer was on stage, surrounded by several local couples enjoying a romantic dinner.  We were seated in the very front of the room, immediately in front of the singer, who smiled at us.  While Catwoman used the restroom, I looked around and surveyed the room.  The cuisine was overpriced finger food.  All the couples I had seen when we walked in were definitely staring at us.  Staring us down.  I started to wonder if they were really couples at all.  The men seemed much older than the women accompanying them.  Was this one of those scam places that slap hapless foreigners with overpriced bills at the end?  I competed with the amps to communicate with the kids.

“Shit guys, I think we need to get the hell out of here.”

“WHAT?”

“I SAID WE SHOULD GO!”

“WHAT?  WHY?”

“BECAUSE THIS PLACE COSTS A LOT AND THESE WOMEN LOOK LIKE THEY HAVE FATHER ISSUES.”

We ran out with our heads held low, following the increasingly dark alleys until we stumbled on the light of the main strip.  Now near the hostel, a line of kebap restaurants were hustling.  The girls’ eyes lit up with joy.  We sat inside a restaurant with a particularly hawkish waiter and ordered meals; he took it upon himself to sit at our table and flirt.  Only not with me, so that was a bit off-putting.  It wasn’t long after the kebaps arrived that the girl who had started this nonsense announced she wasn’t all that hungry.  In fact, she seemed so not hungry that she couldn’t wait to get all her food out of her body, throwing up more colors than can be found in a bag of Skittles.  The manager rushed over with a plastic bag.  Catwoman and I each held one handle of the bag in front of her face like she was a horse feeding at the trough.  Both the bag and my hands were filled with bile.  Before the liquid could dissolve my skin, I handed it off to the hawkish waiter who had brought us inside, the poor fool.  The manager pointed outside, making vague promises of a bathroom, and ushered the girls out personally.

They all left for the bathroom, following the manager’s instructions.  I continued eating my kebap, because, shit, it tasted good, and the waiter was staring at me from the corner, the frown on his face not turning upside-down anytime in the near future.  I looked down at my food.  Then I remembered the mission objective from before we entered the bar and grudgingly left to follow them.  I told the waiter I’d be right back.  His eyes were a thousand-yard stare; I don’t think he even heard.  It didn’t take long to find them; instead of a bathroom, the girl was leaning over a public trash can.  Tourists were taking photos.  They noticed me approaching.

“Josh!  What are you doing?  Go back inside!”

Dry heaving.

“What the hell are you talking… what?  She’s sick!”

Choking.

“Yeah, but our food’s alone in there!  Go save our food!”

Gurgling.

“The food!”

I looked at her.  She was serious, again.  I couldn’t find fault in those priorities or that level of resolve, so I turned back to the restaurant.  I immediately heard the manager from across the square.

“My friend, you catch!”

Without warning, this middle-aged man threw an indeterminate object across the entire line of kebap vendors.  My first instinct was to cringe, anticipating a tomahawk.  In its mid-air tumble, I gradually worked out that it was actually just a water bottle, and that this was a good thing, since it was something I could give it to the girl.  Unfortunately, even with all these calculations running, I didn’t have time to process how to catch the damn thing, so it smacked me in the head.  The vendors cackled.

“Sorry, my friend,” the doubled-over manager huffed.

I trotted over to the girls and waved the water.  But the kid refused, assuring me everything was wonderful. 

“Are you OK?”

“…yesh.”

“Try again.  Are you really OK?”

“…yesh.”

“…cool.  Well, let’s eat.  This night is weird as shit, huh?  I just got hit in the fucking head by…”

“Josh, we don’t have money.”

“YOU WHAT?”

She explained that she meant she wanted to take as much of the food as possible back to the hostel to save on eating costs.  That’s admittedly better than the beating I assumed we’d all be getting from the manager.  I was already well-versed with the strength of his throwing arm.  We entered the restaurant and were greeted with smiles.  We took our seats.  My meat had already gotten cold.  The ill girl decided it was as good a time as any to take a nap, so she laid her head in a puddle of spilled lemonade.   Me and Catwoman began chatting some more, sharing travel stories, pilfering chicken kebap morsels from the napper.  Suddenly the girl sprang up, motioning for a plate.  Her friend held a dish in front of her mouth, and a most disturbing deluge of stomach juice was unceremoniously deposited upon it.  The waiter, who had by now snapped out of his existential crisis, ran over with wetnaps.  Catwoman looked at me.  I looked at my food.  Then we all looked at the manager and pleaded, almost in unison:

“Check, please.”

“I’d like this to go.”

“BLEEEEEEEERGH!!”

A hurried, consonant-heavy language with no time for vowels, the newborn Czech Republic prudently decided to adopt its namesake language in 1993.  Pronounced “Czech me out” by clever tourists who somehow have never been tapped as poet laureate, Czech is the native tongue of some 13 million people worldwide.  With an Omega-level mutant ability to form entirely vowel-less sentences like “plch pln skvrn prch skrz drn prv zhlt čtvrt hrst zrn” (“a doormouse full of stains escaped through grass after first eating a quarter-handful of grain”), it’s surprising that the language hasn’t just given up on phonemes all together.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in the Czech Republic, the ninth country on my trip around the world.

 

1. Hello/Hi.      “Dobrý den/Ahoj.”      [DOH-bree dehn/ah-HOY]

This “hello” can be used when entering stores or approaching people on the streets.

2. Yes/No.     “Ano/Ne.”     [AH-no/neh]

A bi-syllabled “yes.” 

3. Do you speak English?     “Mluvíte anglicky?”     [MLOO-vee-te AHN-glee-skay?]

Don’t expect the locals to shoulder the entire burden.

4. Where is…?     “Kde je…?”     [kday yah…?]

Very useful in Prague, full as it is with fairytale winding cobblestone roads.

5. How much?      “Kolik to stojí?”      [ko-lick toh sto-yi?]

Cheap.  It’s cheap; no need to ask.

6. Delicious!      “Lahodný!”      [lah-hod-nee]

Czech food is emphasizes meaty meals, with pork the most likely meat on your plate.

7. Thank you.      “Děkuji.”      [dyeh-ku-yi]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

 

Notable customs:

  • Per capita, Czech people consume more beer than anyone else in the world, outclassing such luminaries as the Irish, the Germans, and John Belushi.
  • Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, to a similar extent that Spanish and Portuguese speakers can understand each other’s language.
  • Franz Kafka lived and wrote in Prague, but his stories aren’t exactly a reflection on the rest of the Czech literary tradition.

 

But if you wake up one morning and find yourself transformed into a giant insect, you might as well just run with it.

 

Honorable mentions:

I don’t understand.      “Nerozumín.”     [neh-ro-zou-meen]

Fetch! (inf., to a dog)     “Aport!”     [AH-port!]

Good dog! (inf., to a dog)     “Hodnej!”     [HOHD-nay!]

 

The most common first language within the European Union, German is spoken by nearly 100,000,000 people.  Not limited to Germany alone, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and tiny Liechtenstein all feature large contingents of German speakers and varying degrees of official state recognition.  With a hefty alphabet just foreign enough to throw umlauts over three–count ’em–THREE vowels, one can only imagine that they must have simply run out of elbow strength by the time their pen reached the letter ß, thereby saving it to be mispronounced in an entirely different manner.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in Germany, the eighth country on my trip around the world.

1. Hello.     “Hallo.”     [HAH-loh]

Dutch, German, English–all the same, save for a few scrambled letters.

2. Yes/No.     “Ja/Nein.”     [yah/nine]

Very similar to Dutch, nein?

3. Do you speak English?     “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”     [SRAHK-en zee ANG-lish?]

It works more often than you’d expect.

4. Where is…?     “Wo ist…?”     [voh ist…?]

Now wait a minute–this is just a poor man’s Dutch!

5. How much?     “Wie viel kostet das?”     [vee feel KOS-tet das?]

Uncanny, once again.

6. That tastes good!     “Das schmeckt gut!”     [dahs schmekt goot!]

German food is meaty; vegetarians need not learn this phrase.

7. Thank you.     “Danke.”     [DAHN-kuh]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

Notable customs:

  • Germans often tip by rounding up the bill, but rarely bill by rounding off the tip.
  • Don’t drink until a toast has been said, and stay away from Heineken, because PABST BLUE RIBBON!


 “Heineken?  Fuck that shit!  PABST BLUE RIBBON.”

Honorable mentions:

Bless you!     “Gesundheit!”     [geh-soond-hait!]

“A cataclysmic downfall or momentous, apocalpytic event!”   “Götterdämmerung!”   [goy-te-deh-me-rung!]

Happy Hanakah!      “Glücklicher Hanukkah!”      [GLOOK-leesh-er hah-na-kah!]

I bought some mushrooms in Amsterdam, ate them, then while waiting for something to happen, ate some more.  After a while, when nothing had happened, I thought it was all a big dud.  That I had been had.  “Damn it all to hell,” I shrugged.  I had set aside the entire day to simply wander around the city anyway, so off I went into the back alleys of Amsterdam, gobbling the last of the mushrooms along the way.  I must have looked as ambivalent as the vendor selling Magic Beans in Ocarina of Time.

 

“Chomp chomp chomp… How about some magic beans?  They aren’t selling very well…”

Half an hour later, I walked into a local fast food restaurant and decided on a large banana milk shake, because if the choice was between banana and vanilla, what else would you buy?  When I checked my wallet to give the cashier my money, something very unusual happened: I suddenly had the sensation of being really,really drunk, but fully aware that I was aware that I felt really, really drunk.  “Huh, that’s weird as shit,” I thought to myself, handing the clerk two euros.  “This could be a terrible omen of my hubris.”

I stopped on one of Amsterdam’s many canals in order to fully enjoy my banana shake.  As I stood on the bridge spanning the canal, casually feeding the geese below, I realized that everything in the universe had been conspiring against me ever since I was born.  This was my first great realization, one that by itself would have been grounds for existential crisis in any normal situation, but it wasn’t until I came to terms that reality itself was slowly beginning to envelope me in an ephemeral chokehold that I had my second and most important realization: I was wading knee-deep in excrement.  I was aware of myself and my own thoughts to a remarkable degree, as though everyone else had been cast as bit extras in my life story and I was simply sifting through them as Kevin Spacey narrated my life; yet at the same time, I was also fully aware of just how weird shit was getting.  I learned that I had the innate ability to touch heat–I touched heat–and if I ever stayed motionless, I felt as though a deep-seated, carnal Darkness was jumping at the chance to consume me totally, so I had to keep moving, moving!  So, I moved.

I covered a lot of ground trying to stave off the Darkness.  I was absolutely lost in every sense of the word everywhere I went, and apparitions of colors began to interweave through the air like a symphony of Crayola.  Whenever I stopped to double-check my travel map, the colors had blended together a bit more.  After the second or third glance, I couldn’t distinguish the yellow streets from the blue canals.  At one point, I noticed that the cobblestone road was breathing–was it going to try to eat me, too?  I didn’t want to take any chances, so I hugged the walls.  And worse, because I needed to stand still each time I paused to consult my map, the Darkness was given free will to consume another healthy portion of my soul.  I could still feel my own heat, even though I was certain the banana milkshake must have cooled me down.  I zipped up my heavy coat, wrapped the hood around my head, and continued walking.

 

It looked just like this.

It was around that time that every noise began to be the best joke I had ever heard.  Weaving through the streets of Amsterdam with my heavy coat and hefty hood, nothing could stop me from giggling.  Everything was hilarious, but Dutch especially so; the language made me burst into laughter whenever I heard it, which, being in a Dutch-speaking nation, happened quite frequently.  I almost began to feel paranoid with my running internal monologue, thinking that around each new corner, there could be a surprise Dutch attack that would catch me off-guard.  The only defense I could muster was to cover my mouth with my hand like a giggling geisha.

Like this, I walked the streets of Amsterdam.  I still don’t know how I ended up back in my hostel–the map was perfectly useless to my eyes, but I guess the street signs helped a bit.  The world had become a veritable Crayola masterpiece when I walked up to my room and was greeted by a Japanese girl who had definitely been absent when I left earlier in the morning.  Starving for Japanese attention, I dove into a conversation.  I learned that she is from Nagoya, a major city bordering the rice fields where I once lived.  She doesn’t speak English.  She’s a college student studying architecture touring alone on basically the exact same trip as I am, and at twenty years old, her parents are proud of her, by the way; thanks for asking.  She seemed like a sweet, innocent girl, and reminded me a little too much of some of my old students.  But in the middle of our conversation, I looked around our room and realized that no one else was there.   And then I remembered that there had definitely been a Turkish guy in her bed when I first went out to explore the city in the morning, whose honest-to-God advice to me as I walked out the door had been “don’t eat too many mushrooms today!”  And that’s when it hit me: I suddenly convinced myself that I couldn’t be sure if she was real or not.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever paused to wonder if the person you’ve been enthusiatically speaking with for the past twenty minutes is, in fact, real, but this had the effect of making me feel extremely awkward.

While I was quietly distancing myself from our conversation by noisily shuffling through my backpack and wondering how to gather clues as to her (non)existence, the girl’s cell phone rang.  She answered on the first ring, and from her tone, I quickly gathered that it was her boyfriend.  I decided to play along and err on the side of her being a genuine person.  I sumimasen-excused myself into the ensuite bathroom, immediately drank a liter of water to recuperate, and overheard the worst of their conversation:  “Why do you want to break up?  Is there someone else?  What are you talking about?”  I splashed water on my face, and decided to drink even more, but the Japanese girl wouldn’t go away:  “What did I do to you?  Why are you saying this?  I’ll be in Japan again next month!”

I felt horrible to be able to overhear and understand, but I had already convinced myself that I wasn’t sure she existed beyond my own projected reality.  So I just kept drinking water, pausing every few gulps to peer through the door to check if she had disappeared (she hadn’t), then turned back to the sink, then peeked out again (still there), then drank a large amount of water, before I finally gave up and slipped out to the downstairs common room.  I heard her crying in the hallway as I climbed down.

I decided the best way to cross-check my reality was to anchor it directly upon someone else’s.  Approaching the clerk at the front desk, I asked if a Japanese girl had checked in to my room (mentioning that she had been a muscular Turkish man the first time we spoke) and he informed me that they had shuffled rooms.  This assured me that she was 100% genuine, admittedly overlooking the possibility that the secretary was also somehow a projection of my mind, which seemed increasingly unlikely.  The effect was wearing off.  I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper at the counter before walking away.

Turning to climb up the stairs to my room, I could hear her crying before I opened our door.  Her phone was lying beside her.  I apologized for overhearing her conversation–very Japanese of me–then I scribbled a message on a piece of paper:  “Dear Ms. Name-I-Don’t-Know, Are you OK?  Do you want to go drink a lot?”  She read it and laughed.  Then we started talking again, and I confessed that I thought she might have been an illusion.  She laughed some more, and I could see she was starting to feel better.  Her boyfriend hadn’t broken up with her after all, and her name is Mami, by the way; thanks for asking.  It was nighttime.  She wanted to go eat and see Amsterdam.  I wanted to drink.  So we went out and got drunk and ate French fries together by a church.

 

Dutch is most similar language to English spoken in the world today.  And it’s not all that difficult to pick up, since listening to a conversation in Dutch is like watching a news program anchored by a babbling baby: you feel like you should be able to understand what it’s saying, and it’s definitely enthusiastic about whatever it’s telling you about, but the words are just not quite there.  Not often described as the “Jan Brady” between German Marcia and English Cindy, the list of English words originating from Dutch is exceptionally long.  Words like “cruise.”  “Waffle.”  “Filibuster.”  “Santa Claus.”  All you really need to do to speak passing Dutch is to first fill your mouth with marbles and then just proceed in either English or German, whichever you know the least.  On a more practical level, since most people in the Netherlands do speak English (by stuffing marbles in their mouths and speaking German), there is very little reason at all to learn Dutch during a brief visit.  But fuck that.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in the Netherlands, the seventh country on my trip around the world.

 

1. Hello/ Hi.     “Hallo/Hoi.”     [HAH-loh/hoy]

Look at that, they’re like cousins!

2. Yes/No.     “Ja/Nee.”     [yah/nay]

The Dutch “ja” sometimes resembles the English “yeah,” if ever so slightly.

3. Do you speak English?     “Spreekt u Engels?”     [spraked oo ANG-uhls?]

The answer is very likely to be “ja.”

4. Where is…?     “Waar is…?”     [waar is…?]

How cute, it’s trying to be just like English!

5. How much?     “Hoeveel kost dit?”     [HOO-vale cost dit?]

Example: “Hoeveel kost marihuana?”

6. Delcious!     “Heerlijk!”     [HARE-lake]

Note: Not used after sex with a red light prostitute.

7. Thank you.     “Dank u wel.”     [dahnk-oo-vel]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

 

Notable customs:

  • Double Dutch is a popular children’s jumprope game.  Wasn’t that game fun as shit?  That was a fun game.
  • The phrase “going Dutch” refers to splitting a restaurant bill evenly among all diners in a party.  While a common practice in several Northern European countries, in the Middle East, paying for your own meal can sometimes be considered as an offensive rejection of your host’s hospitality.

 

The Flying Dutchman was a mythical seafaring vessel that was said to appear to doomed sailors.  It also appeared in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” captained by Bill Nighy.

 

Honorable mentions:

How much does one tulip cost?     “Hoeveel kost een tulp?”     [HOO-vale cost uhn tulp?]

I want to talk to a lawyer.     “Ik wil een advocaat spreken.”     [ick wil uhn AHD-voh-kaat SPRAY-kun]

Sorry.     “Sorry.”     [SOH-ree]