It’s Monday morning, and I’m on the tram, as usual, seeking entertainment and inspiration. As always, the tram doesn’t disappoint. A young guy has just boarded, and has met his friend. The friend asks, “T’as bien dormis?” (Has he slept well?). Our protagonist takes massive umbrage at this mild and mannerly enquiry about his health, and starts gesticulating pointedly at his face, having taken the question as a direct accusation of having not very bien dormis. Jaysis. You couldn’t keep up with the wide variety ways to insult someone before breakfast in this country.
I don’t feel as if I have very bien dormis myself as it happens. After a complete disaster of an attempt to socialise, I wasn’t much at ease before going to sleep last night. I had agreed to meet the Spanish ‘translationist’ of the wine tasting event, who quite randomly messaged me to see if I would like to meet her and an American friend to see a movie. Her name is Gabriela and she is very talented at sending rapid fire Facebook messages in French. She has usually launched six at me in the space of time it’s taken me to cobble together two sentences. Of course I have to run all my messages through Google Translate prior to sending, which doesn’t help time-wise. Additionally, I must adhere to my very strict rule about making an attempt in French first and then translating back for corrections -partially as a language exercise and partially to avoid sounding like a half-wit, which is the fate of those who foolishly believe Google Translate to actually translate things for them. It’s kind of like a sat nav -a handy tool to have in an emergency, but must be use with an element of reflective practice. As we all know only too well, a trip to a nearby attraction in County Kerry could easily take you on a fun filled spree through Boris-in-Ossery. And unless you’re on the bus to Dublin in 1992 and dying for a wee, NOBODY wants to be in Boris-in-Ossery.
But I digress. Gabriela arrived twenty minutes late for the film, leaving me and what turned out to be a very conservative American to find each other -without each others’ names, numbers or any other identifying variables. However, my nervous and abrupt head-turning in the queue marked me out as an étranger, and Rachel the Republican found me. Now in fairness to Rachel, it’s not like she was wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt or anything, but she tutted her way through the film, disapproving loudly at swear words and sex references. Which comprised of pretty much the entire screenplay. Immediately after the movie (Gabriela did eventually show up), the two agreed it was too late for staying around for the chats and actually started Sprinting, yes Sprinting, for a tram. Having not yet given Rachel the €6.50 for the cinema ticket, I was left with no option but to sprint after them, very nearly ending up carted off by their tram in the vague direction of Timbuktoo. Or its French equivalent at the very least. Jeebus. Starting to suspect that Gabriela is a mad thing.
I could be just tired after the whole weekend though, which was busy. The visit to Lyon was very enjoyable, but tiring. So tiring in fact that upon my return “home”, I was assailed with a sudden and insatiable thirst for cider, so I quickly made arrangements to call to the Hungarian and her boyfriend with the French equivalent of a bag of cans. Except we’re French now and we drink cider from fancy bottles, even if they did cost €1.80 in Monoprix. I think her boyfriend, Francois, who is genuinely French, was slightly shocked at the pace at which his lovely girlfriend and I could get through said bottles, but all in all we passed a very pleasant evening, comparing phrases and sayings in English, Irish, French and Hungarian. The Hungarian ones related mainly to goats and cabbages. Telling. In fact comparisons were far
more readily made between Hungarian and Irish, both of which have evaded contamination by American TV, and have resultantly maintained their histories and cultures within their respective languages. Although the goats and the cabbages seem to be still very real in the lives of Hungarians! I learned a lot about the origin of a number of phrases in English, their meaning having been lost on me due to disconnection from the world of their origins -for example, “the hair of the dog”. Francois also taught me about the origins of the two fingered ‘salute’ -I had thought this was a universal ‘fuck you’, but apparently it has its origins with English bowmen, who had their index and middle fingers cut off when they were captured by the French, to render them incapable of using their weapons. To show two fingers thus became a sign of revolt, and of ‘fuck you, I can still shoot at you’. The things you can learn at a cider swilling soirée.
So France is definitely widening my cultural experience, but in a more easterly direction than I had anticipated! I also learned a phrase from the Russian during our trip to Lyon that reveals an awful lot about any Svetlanas who have previously crossed my path -in Russia apparently “A smile for no reason is a sign of a fool”. Yes. Ve are verry heppy to meet yoo, but ve theenk yoo or all greening eediots foo kennot hold yoor wodkas. By comparison to my sensitive co-tram-taker I imagine the Russians are somewhat less easily offended. Cultural studies continue!