Saturday, May 24, 2014

A little misunderstanding?

The Somme 1914


He died in an instant, the time of the exclamation mark.

So sad that he hadn't been born into a culture in which "Duck!" can safely be understood in this context to be a warning not a water fowl.

There was no time for negotiation, for expressing misunderstanding.

He was *ucked.

His coffin was draped in a Union Jack, he received full military honours, a posthumous medal and the last post.  This casuality was one of 'ours.'

Full English Breakfast
I met him in the morning at breakfast. As usual, his cheek was smeared with toothpaste.  I asked him a question.  He said something Geordiesque. I tried, I failed again to understand.  He nodded, I nodded, we agreed/acknowledged as much as one might with a nod.  We lived in the same house, we ate Cornflakes at the same table, we were the same age. We could have been said to have spoken the same language.

Rule Britannia
"I honestly don't understand why you would want to have an exchange with a Polish university, wouldn't it be better to organise one with a British university like Durham?"

My colleague had fixed ideas about the relative linguistic prestige of 'native speakers' of English.

Going 'home' London 2013
To all intents and purposes this appeared a Pakistani newsagents.  I felt very much at home. Obviously!
'Shah', the name, was a give-away.  Inside the shop, I was met with the expected turbanned shop-keeper.

Delving deeper into the rear of the commerce, however, I was greeted with a Slav cold-cuts counter and blue eyes.   I felt linguistically and culturally challenged.  What on earth was or were Pierogi?  I felt a foreigner in 'my own' country. I had clearly been living in France for too long.

Going 'native'
We waited expectantly on the platform for the students to arrive from Warwick University.  No doubt that the French students would benefit immensely from a few days of conversing with 'real native' speakers of English.  They wouldn't just be able to learn words and expressions, they would be able to learn about 'British' culture first hand.

My suitably-attired colleague was present to greet the educational elite from a top British university when they got down from the train from Paris.

In a group of ten, there were two Chinese students, a Spanish girl from Germany,  a beaming boy from Sri Lanka, an Italian from Turin, a Scot, a Welsh rugby-player, two boys from the home counties and a Pole from Nuneaton.

The inter-cultural knees-up was a great success. One of the French students from Guadeloupe organised a Caribbean evening to which all were invited.  Any misunderstanding was joyfully overcome with smiles, laughter and youthful enthusiasm. They left the house, early in the morning, punch-drunk.

Possessive pronouns.
I woke up to the broadsheet news that a loud(foul)-mouthed German-wed politician had announced that he wouldn't like a family of Romanians to live next to 'his' home.  He is one of those brave people drumming up nationalistic feelings.

All immigrants, he suggests, should have to pass Cambridge English tests or something similar.   Allowing people to freely move around 'his' 'our' territory is a danger for our 'culture' our 'economy', 'our language' even.

Thinking of the joy of youth, meeting, partying, learning through their misunderstanding in the world, I am coming to my punch-line.

Before we embark on a conflict in which a little misunderstanding over the word *uck might be fatal, I would like to leave those ignorant enough to brandish possessive, territorial standards concerning languages in no doubt concerning my feeling towards them.

M. Farage, Mme Le Pen and others who believe you own what is ours...May I invite you to....

Fuck!  Off!


  1. Hmmm i was reading this thinking you were talking about recent events in Toronto and then remembered you are far away. so these kinds of conversations happen all over the world. that is *ucking silly :) thanks for this!

  2. It never ceases to amaze me Aaron how people think that it is their responsibility to define others' borders and how easily people are swayed by scare-mongering...

    Therein lies power and base instincts.

    Recent events in France put this in perspective with the election of anti-Europeans to a European parliament!

    Having just returned from a visit from Poland, I am feeling this intensely.