Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lost in Translation

Every day, I see "bad translations"--English phrases used incorrectly, and proudly worn or spouted by Parisians. "FBI- Fashion Boy Inside" on a skin-tight black t-shirt that could never be worn in the state of Wyoming, "The DJ DRIVE me CRAZY on the dance floor last night" on a sizzling teal ripped tank top in Pimkie (a store frequented by a younger set than myself), and the liberal sprinkling of "super" throughout the vocabulary of every Parisian, from age 2 to 80.

Though most of my expat-friends' husbands are very good English speakers, they often don't quite get the sense of some of our typical phrases, or the tone of voice or body language that changes the meaning, shading it in a way we just "get". In the same way they educate their own partners on the subtleties of French turn-of-phrase, we attempt to clarify some things that have never officially been explained to us, but that we all implicitly understand, having come from similar cultures.

A few nights ago, the phone rang, and since Dr. B prefers to not speak french on the phone if all possible, I raced to answer it. It was our friend Julien, the husband of Aimee. I greeted him with a cheerful, "Hi Julien! How's it going?"

"I am freaking out," he said, in a flat, sort of low grumble. He then sighed audibly, and I jumped in--desperate to know just what was happening.

"What is it? Are you OK? Is there anything wrong?"

Crazy thoughts were zipping through my mind at warp speed.

    Is Aimee OK? Is she sick? Are they at the hospital? Did something happen? Is it someone else? Maybe someone in her family... no, then it would be her calling...then someone in Julien's family? But why would he call us? I hope she's OK. She must not be, though, or she would be calling...

"I am freaking out," he repeated, exasperated.

    Oh no, something big happened, something really big. Maybe they had a fight? Oh yeah, that must be it. Oh my... did she leave him? Why would she leave him? It couldn't be that big. Or could it? I don't think she would leave him, and there haven't been any problems that I know about, but you never know what can happen. I don't think he'd do something bad, but maybe he did do something bad--but what? And wouldn't she call me first? Maybe she was so angry she rushed out without her phone?

I leaned toward the window to see if I could see Aimee coming down our street, crying, upset and needing a place to crash.

    No problem. I'll just pump up the air mattress, she can sleep here--I think the extra sheets are clean--and we'll talk about this tonight. I wonder if we drank all the iced tea? We're going to need something because this will take hours...maybe I can send Jeff to the store for some M&M's--M&M's always help. Yeah, and ice cream. Some ice cream would be good. Oh boy, what did he do? It must have been big for her to leave without her phone--she never goes anywhere without her phone-- if he was a jerk, I'll kill him! Stupid stupid stupid...he better watch out, cause I'm here for my friends, I tell you! You don't mess with MY friends, Mister Frenchie McFreaking Out! I'm gonna take care of my homegirl, just you wait, if that means kicking your french tush all the way to Germany, well I'll do it! I will! Just try me, mister--you don't wanna screw with a Norwegian when she's mad--we may look all calm and blonde, but you tick us off and we're a force to be reckoned with! Passion comes in Vanilla Flavor, too, you know!

"Can I talk to your husband?"

    Huh? He wants to talk to Jeff. Ok, he won't tell me what it is. That's bad. He must have done something, and he wants Jeff to break the news to me. Oooh, boy... or, maybe she is sick, or got hit by a bus? Or a metro? No, Aimee's not that stupid to fall in front of a metro...but why wouldn't Julien tell me himself? Does he think I really can't handle it? Am I that neurotic? Oh, my poor friend! What am I going to do? AIMMEEEEEEEE!!!!!

I passed the phone to Jeff, and went to the kitchen to pour myself a consoling glass of Caffeine-free Coca Light. I hear Jeff murmuring sounds of understanding while Julien explains what's going on. I steadied myself, placing both hands on the edge of the kitchen counter, while I waited for the news.

"Yeah, OK, I got your back. Mm-hmm. Yep. OK. First, hold down the Apple Key, and then Right Click on your touchpad button...yeah, at the same time...uh-huh..."

I am freaking out.




At 7:45 AM, July 25, 2006, Anonymous Stefanie said...

LOL! Sacré Julien!

At 7:56 AM, July 25, 2006, Blogger PutYourFlareOn said...

I'm am laughing so hard tears around coming out of my eyes... it's so funny all the things you can think in a split second or two. My husband! Oh la la la... talk about Lost in Translation! Ha!

At 8:15 AM, July 25, 2006, Blogger Kat said...

Hilarious! Great post!!

At 10:03 AM, July 25, 2006, Blogger Veronique said...

My french dad and american mom had many moments like these...
I agree with you that the very last step of learning a language is the toughest! Even though you've worked your ass off and now have acquired the vocabulary, understood the grammar, you are still so far away from understanding a native.
Good luck!

At 4:44 PM, July 25, 2006, Blogger negrito said...

Now I got it eheheh! Apple keys are also making me freak out !

At 4:06 AM, July 26, 2006, Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hi Mrs B !

An excellent example that goes to prove that "English" no longer belongs to the English, the Americans, the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders (and apologies to all the other countries Amerloque left out (smile).

Last month when Amerloque was a dinner with an Indian businessman, the businessman mentioned that his "very Westernized brother" had been "going out with a California divorcee with one child".

Feigning polite interest, Amerloque asked: "And about how old is the woman and child ? "

Answer: "Oh, the woman is about forty, and she has been having the child for fourteen or fifteen years."

Right. Amerloque had a hard time keeping a straight face. He didn't freak out, though. Some people just have trouble with the present perfect. (wide grin)

However, the words "Robot Ahead" painted on South African streets did freak out Amerloque the first time he saw them. He pulled off to the side of the road to mull it over and try to figure out what the h*ll …

Turns out it meant "Automatic Three-Color Traffic Light". At least, back then. (sigh).



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