Tuesday, June 06, 2006

ICC2: Watch those cognates, they are FALSE FRIENDS

Any time I travel, especially to a foreign country with a language not my own, I insist on researching and studying the culture and language extensively, so I can try my best to fit in, by which I mean, be well-liked.

My theory here is that if I am well-liked, I won't have things like this happen:

* receive the entire head of a cow when ordering beef
* get spit on
* have vegetables hurled at my vehicle with shouts of what sounds like, "Bologna Merry Kin!"
* get apples instead of potatoes
* get a ticket to Lyon instead of Marseille
* have to hand over a suspiciously large amount of "checkpoint" fee money and my watch to machine gun toting "state officials"

All of which are true and have happened. To me.

Once again I am left with the lingering suspicion, however, that my foreigness was being taking advantage of, much like some evil people prey on the simple and naive.

In the US, I am big, brave, smart and aware.

Abroad, I am...well, lacking anything clever to say, simply another fool soon to be parted with her money, "OH! OH! Look, they say these are REAL PIECES of the ACTUAL Coliseum. Imagine...thousands of gladiators thousands of years ago walked on this, and I can take it home with me!!!" I breathily announce to my DH, who is shaking his head.

But that's when I am a tourist.

What about...working, or studying abroad?

Whole 'nother kettle of fish. Game face on, baby.

Pal (from yesterday), I will admit, was not really a friend. He was simply someone I knew, which is different, and ought to be distinguished. We were both plopped in France due to a company's business and often found ourselves keeping the same hours in the lounge, waiting for a spouse (me) or something or someone else (him).

This next story is also about a sort of friend, someone I knew middling fair.

The main character in this story is Cognate, the false friend. Many, many people (including myself) are unwittingly sucked in to the comforting familiarity Cognate offers us in a foreign environment. We trust Cognate, but like Luck, she is a fickle friend who often lets us down.

At best, you get apples instead of potatoes. At semi-worst, you fail a class in college.

Let's call our heroine Lucinda, a nice, poetic, classic name.

Lucinda was a very sweet and shy girl. She took school very seriously and unlike the rest of us poseur hoser slackers, she actually studied in the evenings and on weekends, with occasional outings for dinner only. Lucinda was in the US for college, and had spent three years trying hard to learn the language, without much success. Spanish was her native language. And even the Spanglish spoken here left her wrinkling her nose and brow, shaking her head, shrugging and saying, sorry.

See? Right there? I bet people in France think I am a shy and reserved sort of girl. One who speaks slowly, and measures her thoughts.


Once again, fooled you!

My tongue is hinged in the middle and frequently moves faster than my brain, although I feel confident the two are quite competitive and regularly engaged in a race.

My quietness abroad? My measured thought? Simply working up first the nerve and then the vocabulary and then the nerve again to speak in a foreign language.

Really then, who knows what sort of person Lucinda actually was (not me, but maybe those fluent in her language did). I suspect she was a little reserved, even in Spanish, and clearly dedicated to her studies, even if it was really just preferring it to frustrated communication, or needing extra time to translate.

The bottom line is that Lucinda was not a party animal, but in one of those freakish twists of irony she was the one who got caught out.

One day Lucinda went out to a buffet for dinner with some fellow Spanish speakers.

She was horribly sick shortly after and all the next day. The doctor told her it was food poisoning, although nobody else got sick and everyone ate from the buffet.

Late the next day, she realized she had missed an exam in a class. Panicked, she called the professor and attempted to explain, in her strained English, that she was sorry, had been ill and begged for a chance to make up the exam. The professor, attempting to be reasonable, asked her what her illness had been.

Lucinda looked hopelessly to her friend Cognate, and Cognate decided to play a cruel trick on her. Cognate whispered the word in her ear and Lucinda said, “It was the headache and the stomachache and the sickness of a terrible bout of INTOXICATION.”

The professor gasped and said, “You have some nerve! No make ups!” and hung up.

Bewildered, Lucinda looked once again to Cognate who nodded and said, yes intoxicated. Lucinda still did not know her for the false friend she was until a bilingual speaker said, “Oh no, intoxicale in Spanish means this, but in English it means, drunk. You told your professor you had too much to drink.”

You can just imagine, can’t you?

P.S. Apologies for the lack of images...blogspot is having some trouble I guess and won't let me load. I'll try to revise and add later.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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