Lost in Translation

I am sure I could have come up with something more clever for the title, something not already starring Bill Murray in a foreign country, but this is where I landed. So far, most of my experiences revolve around the use of very poorly spoken French, so it only seemed fitting....hopefully, I can paint the pictures more accurately in English. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pardon my Gabonese

Ever been at the grocery store and wondered why the line was moving so slowly, only to look ahead and see someone frantically attempting to communicate in a foreign language? Yeah? Well, that girl is me.

Contrary to my current display of exceptionally horrible linguistics, I actually took 2 years of French in college. My dad insisted the Spanish was the way to go, but the only 101 classes were at 8am. I went with French at noon. For once my laziness paid off. And despite the fact that Sarah Hall does a frighteningly accurate impression of me in French 101, circa 1994, I did walk away with some basic vocabulary and a phrase or two. Enough to get me by, right? Well, as it turns out, my mastery of the words “goat” and “horse” will not be as useful as I thought.

So far I have attempted to order “salmon cheese” (nope, doesn’t exist in Gabon, either), royally annoyed a grocery store clerk by staring at her blankly for a solid 5 minutes while she repeatedly told me to move my water off the belt and today, the crowning glory, I cheerfully wished someone, “Lunch!” instead of “Have a good day!”

In my defense, “have a good day” is “bonjourneé”, which sounds remarkably like “déjeuner”, which, yes, means “lunch.” I have to say, though, everyone has been very patient. Clearly, these have all been laugh with me, not at me situations…I think.

Overall, I am surprised by how much I DO understand when people talk to me… largely based on recognizing a max of 2 words per 60 spoken. But I can get the gist at least. For example, as I was walking back from dropping the girls at school today, I am fairly certain my “Bonjour!” to a man passing by was met by an equally cheerful, “Hello white girl.” Likewise, I more than understood 3 local school girls asked if they could touch Nora’s hair. The laughing and pointing helped, but I got what they were saying.

But how do I sound to them? Chris made the wonderful comparison to Borat once when we were in Haiti. For example:

I think I’m saying:
Hello, good sir. Could you please recommend a cheese that would go nicely with this delicious smoked salmon?

What the deli man hears is:
Yiz, heelo meester. I vould be licking dah chiz uf simmon fire, pliz. Horse? Lunch.

But I’m trying. And that does seem to go a long way. Of course, it would have been nice if the deli counter man had mentioned that he spoke English before I asked for salmon cheese. And perhaps the grocery store clerk could have done a bit more sign language. But the lunch guy was great. He corrected me and we had a nice laugh…even if I did sounds like Borat.

So I will keep studying and in the meantime, a very good lunch to you…


  1. I am having a very good lunch right now while laughing and reading this blog!

  2. I laughed out loud, snorted from laughing so much, and cried a little...also from laughing. ......Ok, and my feet got a little hot. Are you happy???
    I miss you guys! Love, love, love you!!!