Monday, August 7

language problems

An evening meal in a local Italian eatery highlights the important difference between le (pain) and la(pin).

It is self-evident I suppose that if I simply learnt the local languages, I would have less difficulty speaking them. The problem is that fall into so many pits while attempting to speak that learning just seems hopeless.

I suppose you could call it entertaining. Take a recent visit to an new Italian joint not far from where we live. I ordered a pizza parmigianno, feeling reasonably confident that I had fully comprehended the menu:

Pizza Parmigianno, pizza avec tomates, aubergine et parmesan

I had reason to be extra confident when you consider that the each dish was spelled out in three languages, one of them my own:

Pizza Parmigianno, pizza with tomatoes, egg plant and parmesan

Tucking into some of the starchy bread on offer, I launched into a long discourse about the fact that as far as I was concerned the English for aubergine is aubergine. The Americans, as always, bore the brunt of my criticism for egg plant appearing on menus all over my adopted city, and probably well beyond.

I was still ranting as the waiter arrived with our dishes, a hefty steak for her, the so-called pizza parmigianno for me. I immediately caught the unmistakeable waft of copious amounts of garlic. Apparently emanating from my plate. Now if there is one thing I can stomach less than Americanisms, it is garlic. Dracula probably prefers it.

Having shed my plate of the most obvious shards of the offending vegetable (the garlic not the “egg plant”) I tucked in. A bit less than three-quarters of the way through, offended by the smell of my own breath, I had to admit defeat.

As the waiter arrived to clear up he asked whether everything had been to our satisfaction.
“C’était très bon”, smiled Barbara.
“Oui, ca était”, I confirmed.
He looked suspiciously at my plate and said something along the lines of ‘yeah right and by the way there is no way that they’ll believe me in the kitchen when they see what you’ve left over’.
Being over polite, I racked my brains for something to blame rather than the cooking style. “C’était a cause de la pain”, I stuttered eventually.
“Pardon?”, he said clearly puzzled. I ploughed on; “La pain, c’était a cause de la pain”.
“Ah oui, vous voulez le ramener pour le chien, peut-être?” he joked, hastily departing.

I turned to Barbara, who was grinning in an smug trilingual manner. “LE pain”, she scoffed, “bread is masculine”. I mulled this over. “I just blamed the rabbit didn’t I?”


pittstop designer said...

Classic - lots of embarassing ones in the Nam. Buoi for one example , depening on the tone is either grapefruit or cock/ dick. Which is a great one when I'm over at the in laws and I say to the missus' mother: " that's tasty cock". The gov. even banned it as an internet domain name (a grapefruit producer owned it) as with webpage names there is no tones so words are open to dubious interpretation. Lon is another one, domain name also banned, it's either, depending on tone, pork, a can of ...(coke, sprite etc) or vagina (though the cruder version of that word)....
"gimme a piece of *unt there will ya!"

Hercé said...

jeez, that raises things a level or two. my faux pas' tend to be a little tamer. In a restaurant in Paris with some friends, one of whom was a chef in a 3 star Michelin restaurant (since opened a resto in Antwerp - ), i ordered Steak Tartar (raw meat for those as uncouth as myself) and asked for it bien cuit. At least i didn't ask for it bien fait, another favourite of mine.

Hercé said...

here's a good un from elsewhere on the web:

Sour Grapes said...

Welcome to Brussels. It just goes on like that. The people who come from here can't even understand each other, so when you add in the foreigners ...
Hope it doesn't spoil your stay. I've been 23 years here, and just about getting used to it.

Hercé said...

23 years - 1983 - you must have seen a thing or two around here?
may i ask what was it like in 1986 when the Belgians got to the semi-finals of the world cup shortly after having won the eurovision song contest?