Skip to main content

critical failure

i had my first taste of linguistic humiliation yesterday. i. am. so. disappointed. in. myself.

yesterday was the day i finally made a trip to librairie michel fortin, a bookstore dedicated entirely to the wonder of languages and language learning. it's a mecca of instructional books of all sorts, for all levels, and on different themes. you can find exercise books, common phrase books, books with audio cds [and a couple with download codes, which is surely the way to go]. there are massive sections on french, english, spanish and italian, with chinese and arabic not far behind. but you can also find breton, basque and mongolian. and on top of that, there are books of fiction and poetry you may know only in translation. and for those who crave something a little more direct, there are also books about insulting people and making out in different languages. it is packed to the rafters with awesome.

as i was browsing, i noticed that there was a book that combined learning of romance languages [french, spanish, italian, portuguese] from english- basically, since the grammatical structure and much of the vocabulary is similar between them, you can just work them together. since i've already established a base in french, spanish and italian, i didn't feel the need to need to pick the book up just so that i could learn to insult antichrist jose mourinho in his native tongue. sadly, i'll probably never be close enough to him to act on that obsession urge.

but what did occur to me was that there might be a similar book for scandinavian languages. since i've started learning swedish, i figured maybe it would be fun to have a guide on hand to help me learn the equivalent words/ phrases/ pronunciation in danish and norwegian. after all, those languages are so close that people debate whether they're even separate languages, or a continuum, since each one breaks down into slightly different dialects within the country [norwegian on its own is basically two languages]. or, to put it more simply, the scandinavian languages are a whole lot closer to one another than the romance languages.

i did not find one, but i figured i could ask one of the friendly staff. i explained what i was looking for, and that i'd been learning swedish, at which point the man helping me flipped from french to perfect swedish "ah, du talar svenska?"

and i froze. i know the verb 'to learn: 'låra sig'. i know the word for 'little': 'litet'. i could have said things that involved those words. but instead i stood there and very slowly squeezed out the words 'ja... jag... talar...' at which point the kind gentleman switched back to french. i was devastated. this was my very first opportunity to try out one of my spiffy new languages and i failed utterly. i wanted to sink into the floor.

there was, in fact, a book just like the one that i wanted, but it was out of stock, and the publisher had a minimum order requirement, so, while they could special order it for me, they would have to wait until they were doing an order from that supplier. but they reassured me that this happened regularly, so it wouldn't be too long a wait. this whole time, i'm trying to think of something intelligent to say in swedish, so that i don't look like a complete idiot for saying that i was learning it, but all that's coming to mind is 'jag ser ut som en älg', which means 'i look like a moose'. which, i realised, was worse than saying nothing at all. so i thought it best to bite my tongue.

that is, until i left the order desk and thought that the least i could do was say thanks in the language i was supposedly able to speak. i burst out with 'dank je wel!', as confidently as i could manage. i was halfway across the floor when i realised that 'dank je wel' is dutch. swedish for 'thanks very much' is 'tack så mycket'. waves of shame.

i continued to browse, dead set on looking for books on languages i knew absolutely nothing about, so that i wouldn't be tempted to try to show off. a few minutes later, the helpful man came up to show me a box of swedish fridge poetry that they had. i guess so that i could learn at least one more word. [seriously, how awesome is the idea of swedish fridge poetry?]

reflecting on it later, part of the problem might have been that i was switching to french, which is not my native language. [earlier this week, i told a guest we were looking to move some of the furniture around in our 'foyer', which in french means 'fireplace'. i still managed the rest of the conversation, but that's the kind of mistake i still make, even though i've spoken french for years.] so maybe my brain just got overloaded trying to switch from a second language to a third. maybe if i'd switched from english- so similar to swedish in a lot of respects- it would have been easier. but that doesn't matter in the end.

i'd had my chance and i melted down.

this doesn't dim my enthusiasm, of course. i know if i keep practicing, i can do better. i mean, if i can shake off telling people i'm moving furniture around in the fireplace, i can do better than stammering out three words and choking. and the store itself is wonderful [many thanks to martin for his exceptional patience as i browsed for more than an hour], so i will definitely be returning. i just might be wearing a disguise when i do so. 

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

dj kali & mr. dna @ casa del popolo post-punk night

last night was a blast! a big thank you to dj tyg for letting us guest star on her monthly night, because we had a great time. my set was a little more reminiscent of the sets that i used to do at katacombes [i.e., less prone to strange meanderings than what you normally hear at the caustic lounge]. i actually invited someone to the night with the promise "don't worry, it'll be normal". which also gives you an idea of what to expect at the caustic lounge. behold my marketing genius.

mr. dna started off putting the "punk" into the night [which i think technically means i was responsible for the post, which doesn't sound quite so exciting]. i'd say that he definitely had the edge in the bouncy energy department.

many thanks to those who stopped in throughout the night to share in the tunes, the booze and the remarkably tasty nachos and a special thank you to the ska boss who stuck it out until the end of the night and gave our weary bones a ride home…

the war is over

i assumed that the live coverage of last weekend's "march for our lives" would be hard to watch, and in some ways, it was. however, i did not expect that it would feel so joyful and empowering as well. 
the idea that "joyful" can be used in the description of a rally around the subject of violence and death seems bizarre, and certainly many of the speeches were anything but. however, it was difficult not to watch things unfold on saturday and not have the feeling that there is a spirit of positive change. young people, younger than the much-discussed millennial demographic, are taking it to the powers that be and those powers be shakin' in their shoes.

it's hardly surprising that cheeto benito ran off to golf for the weekend rather than stay and face the music of arianna grande and common; after all, he spends every weekend on a taxpayer-funded golf holiday. nor is it surprising that congress's most vocal critics of gun reform apparently spent the …

friday favourites 20.07.12

i was almost going to skip it this week. not out of any disinterest, but i always feel weird posting something flip and cheeky on days when the news is choked with stories of some location filled with people going about their lives suddenly getting shot up by a lone maniac with some sort of personal gripe or agenda.

awful things happen every single day. people who lead otherwise normal lives are suddenly transformed through violence every single day. by the harsh standards of the world, what happened last night in aurora, colorado isn't even close to the worst. i'm sure families in syria would consider a day where ten people died to be better than average. but there is something about these completely random mass shootings in otherwise fairly peaceful places that haunts us all here in the western world. it happened today with aurora. it happened a year ago sunday in norway. it happened in another colorado town, now synonymous with the terror of such a massacre in 1999.

what h…