Friday, 9 October 2009

On foreign language faux-pas

Two shorts here -

A couple of months ago, my friend from Sweden was visiting me here in Vienna. She did ok with speaking the odd word of German whenever needed but could never get the hang of the word for sorry or excuse me - 'Entschuldigung'. She said it reminded her of the word 'Golliwogg', since most people pronounce it kind of like 'shulligung'.

Anyways, following one particularly drunken evening, myself, her and another visiting friend got into a taxi. She decided to apologise for her innebriated state and so exclaimed, loudly, "GOLLIWOGG DRIVER!"

If you're unsure what a Golliwogg is, see here:

So why was this so ill-advised? Well, since the taxi driver was a black man, I suppose her outburst is the equivalent of yelling "PAKI WAITER!" whilst sitting in an Indian restaurant.

Luckily, either he didn't hear, didn't understand, or somehow wasn't offended.

Then last month I was paying her a return visit in Stockholm. Whilst sitting on the underground I asked her how to pronounce a particular word I'd seen on a newspaper headline. The word was 'Flycktingen'. She found it hilarious that I couldn't pronounce it correctly, and I found it increasingly frustrating - apparently I was adding a 'h' sound after the 't' which shouldn't have been there, and this confused me greatly since when I asked her to say it correctly and then to say what I was saying, I could discern no difference whatsoever. That's why I suck at languages I guess.

Anyway, I sat there repeating the word over and over, until she started giggling and urging me to stop.

It was the word for 'refugee', and I'd been looking absent-mindedly (but probably staring aggressively in their eyes) at a family of Middle Eastern looking folk.