Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Lost in Translation

Sometimes when the phone rings I feel a little apprehensive.

Aimee has been known to stalk us once in a while, and when she's crying I can't help but try and help her.

Yesterday afternoon I was right to feel nervous.

"Oi Elise, como você é? parabéns!"

Oh shit! It was Solicitor's grandmother. She doesn't speak English and I don't speak Portugese. I could attempt to get by in Spanish.

"Hola, estoy bien. Cómo es usted?"

"Sou tão feliz para você. Depois que tudo que você foi por, merece alguma felicidade."

Um. What the fuck?

It's so much easier to communicate when you're in front of the person. You can get by on nods and hand gestures. How the hell was I supposed to do it over the phone?

"Um, hang on one second. Un momento."

I ran to the book shelve with the cordless phone and pulled open the Portugese dictionary.

I always see people in films getting by with a dictionary. That is a complete lie! I had no idea how to begin. Do I attempt to translate and then find a translation for my answer? That would take too long.

I pulled out my mobile and called Solicitor.

"You have to help me!" I whispered urgently. "I don't understand a word your grandmother is saying."

"She's there with you?" Solicitor sounded shocked.

Avó can barely walk. She's 4 foot nothing with extremely frail bones.

"She's on the phone!"

"Tell her you'll call her back. We'll speak to her when I get home."

"Okay. How?"

"Say 'Posso telefoná-lo mais tarde esta noite?'"

I lifted the cordless

"Hello! Um Hola!"

"Olá. Costas bem-vindas. Onde foi?"

I lifted my mobile.

"She said 'Onde foi'?"

"Elise, just repeat what I said. I haven't got time to translate a female gossiping session."

"Okay. What did you say again?"

"Posso telefoná-lo mais tarde esta noite."

I lifted the cordless.

"Avó, Posso telefoná-lo mais tarde esta noite?"

"Naturalmente você pode telefonar me mais tarde. Acabo de querer felicitá-lo, mas esperarei até que meu neto volta para casa. Será melhor se traduz."

I lifted my mobile.

"She said 'se traduz'?"

Solicitor breathed in frustration.

"I've got a meeting in ten minutes. Say goodbye to her and I'll call her later."

He hung up on me! I lifted the cordless. All I have to do is say goodbye. Without sounding like a complete idiot.

"Hola Avó. Um. Hablaré con usted pronto. Adiós?"

"Tá bom. Falarei a você mais tarde. Tome cuidado. Bye."

Yes! I said goodbye without any help! Okay, it was in Spanish, but she obviously understood me.

I really should read the Portugese books that I bought. But to be fair, Solicitor's grandmother is the only one in his whole family that doesn't speak English.

They're all pretty fluent in their mother tongue though. Sometimes they all chatter in a mix of both English and Portugese. They flick between to two with ease, I'm almost jealous at times.

Grandmama used to tell me to learn other languages when I was growing up. I learnt the basics of French and Spanish. French, because Grandmama (and my mother) are originally from France, and Spanish because of my father. But I didn't learn them fluently. I speak enough to get by; "Can I get a taxi?" "I live in a semi-detached house." "How much is that red dress?"

After yesterday I have a new-found project. I am going to learn to speak Portugese fluently. I am also going to brush up on my French and Spanish.

I also want to learn Japanese. You never know when you'll need to use it.

Oh, and German. German is a good language to learn.

And Polish. There are lots of Polish people in London now. It'll help if I know what they're saying.

Okay, I'm going to need to prioritise. In order of importance:
Spanish (French and Spanish will be easy to brush up on, so really it won't take too long)
Japanese (in case I want to do business in Japan, which could happen)
German (good because... well its just good to know)
Polish (I want to get a new kitchen fitted soon)
Greek (I have a friend who lives in Cyprus. The last time I visited her the gardener was talking to me. He could have been chatting me up. Or he could have been asking me what I think of the new potatoes)

Maybe I should switch German and Polish. I'm more likely to need Polish before German right?

Right. I'm going to start. Tomorrow.

Not Tomorrow. Monday. Yes, Monday.


Cocaine Princess said...

Sometimes your solictor frustrates me! Instead of the time he took arguing with you on the phone why didn't he tell you to hang up on grandma so he could call her back and explain things?!

One language I would love to learn is Japanese. The nail salon where I go, they all speak it. I would love to know what they're talking about. And if they're talking about me. :))

KaB said...

O namae wa na des ka? That's something to do with what is your knows anymore. Japanese isn't too difficult to learn! I know that milk is 'miruku'...I think, again!

So anyway... too! I am starting to learn ze German too! It's about time...the German is best I learn to speak German so that I can speak German to his family. I mean, they're all South African (well the guy is) and the folks speak English fluently, just like you & me, but they all speak German when together. I generally tend to twiddle my thumbs & dream about shoes & underwear!


Good luck though...

I guess Polish over German if you're taking the kitchen into account...

Bina said...

the only language I've really wanted to know (besides English) is spanish. There is so much around, getting more and more, too, and I would love to know what they are saying, cause I just KNOW they are talking about me damnit. LOL

You must be so pretty to have that mix in you! You should post a picture.

Bambi said...

I like to eat Japanese, learning it would be from what I understand, one of the HARDEST tasks! I'll let you learn it and translate! :) you are going to be a busy girl!

Malach the Merciless said...

Lots a Portuguese around here, I only know swears, and stupid saying like "fry my underwear".

Natasha said...

I've had to learn German and Spanish due to where we have been living and now more importantly because my girls are speaking more and more German every day. Papa speaks to them in Spanish, I speak at home in English and outside we all speak German. But there is no way I want to let them get the better of me by nattering away in a language that I don't understand!

I will join you with the Japanese! I would love to learn.

Slyde said...

good luck with all that. i can understand spanish to get by, but thats about it.

i'd LOVE to learn japanese..

angel said...

LOL... thats a lot to tackle! So are you really going to start on Monday

teeni said...

LOL. Sounds like you already have a better handle on the languages than I did. I tried to learn portuguese so I could talk to my grandmother but I never really mastered it before she passed. I would have loved to learn more from her because she was quite a character (and this I know only from the few words, hand gestures and facial expressions). I hope you get to converse more with Solicitor's Avo. :)

Getty72 said...

こんにちはElise。 いかにあるか。 私は元気でいることを望みます。 私は10からこれを翻訳することをどうにかして10を与えます! 私は少し挑戦を愛します。 lol!

I love this post. I can totally relate to your anguish and frustration. I remember when I was in Poland, ordering what I though was a savoury vegetarian pancake for a lunch, and was rather surprised when the waiter turned up with plate of sweet pancakes with strawberries and cream. What was even worse, was that when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I ordered a slice of cheesecake for an afternoon snack (well, it had to be!) and was even MORE surprised when the waitress arrived with a cheese steak. She was a lovely girl and I didn't have the heart to tell her that she got my order wrong, so quietly sat there and chewed my way through it for the next hour...LOL! The moral of this story is that no matter what language people speak... some of us still get things wrong....ooops!

Japanese is a cool language to learn because you learn so much about their culture at the same time. The only problem is using it regularly afterwards, as it is soooo easy to forget. I still get my words mixed up at work and get strange looks or fits of laughter from my Japanese colleagues when I try and converse with them in Japanese.... oh well, and least I try :o)

Hope you are well :)

angel said...

Hey! How're you doing?

Michelle Hix said...

Elise! Oh my goodness! I've been gone sooooo long.

I've just spent an hour reading back through everything I've missed.

You've gone thru so much.

Congratulations on the fun!

I hope you are getting through the loss okay. What a tough thing to go through.

I've missed you!

presious said...


How have you been? I haven't been getting your entries on my blog space :(. Anyway, good to see you are still there.

You are better than I am! I barely made it through spanish in college. I was literally in tears!!

Solicitor is just a man. What I mean is, most men just don't get the simple, common sense stuff. They can make us want to scream. Unfortunately, he is normal.

Kitty said...

Hey Elise - I was thinking about you today. Hope all is well. x

Bharat said...

'lo Elise =) Looks like you've disappeared at about the time I've reappeared! Do drop by the blog if you come back...

Polgara said...

Just popped by hoping you are ok
Pol x

Brigitte said...

Tee hee! I live in a country that has 11 official languages of which I am fluent in two (Sepaking, reading & writing). But I would LOVE to learn to speak Zulu because it is very widely spoken in South Africa - it would be FANTASTIC to know what people at work or in the strets are jabbering on about thinking I don't know what they are saying... Good Luck, it is Monday today 0 did you start??

Passion Fruit said...

I dream of becoming a polyglot some day.

Anyway, I hope you continue your blog soon - I'm sure there are a lot of people thinking the same. Hopefully you're alright..

presious said...

Hey Elise,

Been thinking about you lately. Just checking on you to see how you've been doing. I do hope all is well and you are feeling better.

Please come back and say 'Hello'. I know it's been hard.