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Furrin languages

(I’m now off adventuring beyond the reach of wireless. So here’s a post I wrote early-early on. I’m getting a tad more used to things now …)


Trav’lin’ …

The first thing you notice about furriners is that they speak Furrin. (Never mind that I’m now the furriner; don’t Americans always think of themselves as the center of the universe?)

I’m not opposed to speaking Furrin. I’ve tried to learn to do it myself, twice. One time, I managed to get two years’ worth of straight As, become a tutor to several of my own classmates — and still never was able to speak the language in question, though I could grope my way through reading, writing, and mumbling a few words of it. (But even all these years later, should you happen to need a verb conjugated, I’m your girl.)

My particular problem right now is this: The dominant form of Furrin spoken here is a close cousin to the Furrin I once tried so hard to learn. And every time I have to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where’s the bus depot?” or “Yes, we really are relieved to have gotten rid of George W. Bush, and you’re welcome to take Obama off our hands if you think he’s so hot,” what little I can manage tends to come out in the other language.

Which sounds just enough like the local lingo to make everybody think I’m hideously fracturing their native tongue. Which leads them to assume, quite politely, that I’m an idiot. Which may not be far from the mark.

Since they can also clearly detect my US-ian accent, I hope they’ll at least give me credit for trying, in this world where most Americans are notoriously lacking in any variety of Furrin.

Shortly, my friend Lorri and I will be headed into the wilds, where most people speak a language so obscure that no phrasebooks or CDs teach a word of it. Communicating with gestures and smiles, I’ll probably appear more intelligent. At least I hope so.


  1. Joel
    Joel February 24, 2010 8:32 am

    I’ve noticed that a few words of a furrin’ language can be worse than none. Greet a native in his own language, for example, and you’ll spend the next couple of minutes correcting his assumption that you actually speak the language.

    So “hello” is counterproductive. “Please” and “Thank you,” however, always seem to go over well.

  2. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal February 24, 2010 10:27 am

    Around here, in more ways than one, I am a furriner.

    I “know” a tiny bit of Spanish but don’t speak it at all. Rather than getting riled about people who “don’t talk like us” (in the words of someone I am around too much), I enjoy the experience of “traveling to exotic places” without going anywhere. And I find it entertaining to find ways to communicate in spite of myself. The only other language I “speak” at ALL is indian sign language. Yet it does sometimes help a bit.

    But the main reason I am quite definitely a furriner is that I live a life that respects individual liberty in a land of “conservatives”/socialists who are OK with a little bit of “liberty” as long at it doesn’t offend them in some way or benefit those they consider the furriners. That’s a bigger gulf than any language barrier.

  3. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth February 24, 2010 1:10 pm

    Enjoy your time beyond wireless, Claire. We love ya and all, but do put the electrons aside for a while, and recharge with something better–more human.* We’ll all be here when you get back.

    As fer “speakin’ Furrin”, I’m with you. A number of years ago now, for business, I wound up spending about 3 months in a country speaking the same language I had “studied” in skool*, and I relished the opportunity to work on it in a less sanitized environment. Of course, all the folks there spoke pretty flawless English, and I was fully aware that they were one and all very gracious in helping me limp along and develop the skill. By the time the project was done, we actually had a meeting (all their meetings were conducted in local language) in which I responded so naturally that the whole room did a double-take at me. It actually took me a minute to realize what was going on. That was a nice moment.

    Interestingly, I found the technical meetings to be much easier to follow, in local language, than any casual speech. First of all, much technical language is new and pre-internationalized, with a strong English-centric bias. Even more importantly, though, when people speak of technical matters, they tend to slow down and enunciate far more clearly than when they’re jawing about less formal things. This appealed to the Furrin grammarian in me, and probably helped me cover my own remedial ground much faster. (Still seemed to take forever!)

    I sometimes wish that I could go back to some of those places I went to, now, with mandolin in hand. I’ll never be able to study all the natural languages I want (drives me nuts), but I can communicate and establish mutual good will with almost anyone, with eight strings and a ready smile.

    * You an Invader Zim fan? There was some real gold in that series.

  4. Ted Dunlap
    Ted Dunlap February 26, 2010 9:02 pm

    I’m thinking the preceding was pretty good advice.

    “Enjoy your time beyond wireless, Claire. We love ya and all, but do put the electrons aside for a while, and recharge with something better–more human.* We’ll all be here when you get back.”

    It is a tough call to document the journey VS to live the moment, but I’m thinking living it wins. Immerse yourself. Give us your impressions when (if) you decide to return.

    Oops. Dang it. Don’t go away without saying goodbye, though … and writing a tale of how to go where you went.

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