Friday, 22 December 2017

Shakespeare, the Pope and the Way to the ''See'': Lost in Translation in Croatia

A wise man once said that a different language is a different vision of life. He couldn't have been more right...

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Four Magical Words and the Alphabet: UK Language Imbecile’s Continuing Croatian Catastrophe

The difficulties of the Croatian language strike again...

Photo credit The Word Point

Fresh from my baptism of fire first ever Croatian lesson last Monday, I was lucky enough to visit Rovinj over the weekend.

I had been in this neck of the woods once before to attend a festival at the amphitheatre in Pula, but as you can imagine, I don't remember much about it. Rovinj is a beautiful little town with winding, medieval streets, an abundance of charming art galleries and seafood eateries galore. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to practice some of my new-found language skills – particularly with regard to ordering food.

''Izvolite'' grumbles the bakery shop assistant, with the sort of casual half-smile you would expect from someone who has served yet another tourist a burek.

“IZVOLITE!” I blurted out with instant regret as I receive a swift dig to the ribs from my partner and wish the ground to swallow me up. This is not how you respond to such a question. In English it appears rather silly:

Assistant: ''How may I help you?''

Me: ''How may I help YOU?''

This could have gone on for some time. It’s not necessarily a difficulty in languages though – however hilarious the assistant might have thought my futile efforts as I turned an alarming shade of beetroot. Exactly the same thing happens when someone wishes you a “happy birthday”. How many of you have beamingly replied with “happy birthday to you too”?! It really is terribly embarrassing, and yet our brains are conditioned to do so. I blame Christmas.

Of course, the correct response should have been to tell her that I would indeed like one breakfast burek and that will be all. I should clarify here that breakfast burek is just a normal burek but I like to eat them for breakfast. Anyway, after I’ve completely fuddled my opening discourse, everything goes totally out the window.

“Errrrr…I'll have one of those please'' I sheepishly half-mumble, stabbing a finger in the direction of the meat variety behind the counter glass. Self-assessing my performance as I exit the store, I realise there
wasn't a Croatian word in there at all. Progress has not been made.

I’m obviously not even close to using anything I’ve “learned” in the classroom just yet, as my brain tends to shut down, panic and fall at the first hurdle. It’s hardwired to be terrified of failure, and is thus reluctant to make any attempt whatsoever. Such inability to remember even the most basic of foreign language phrases reminds me of a time I met a rather beautiful French girl in a hostel in Bulgaria.

Wanting to impress, I spent the whole day on google translate attempting to learn how to say “I think you’re beautiful” in French. “Je pense que tu es belle, Je pense que tu es belle, Je pense que tu es belle, Je pense que tu es belle, Je pense que tu es belle'' all day long repeating the phrase, trying desperately to commit it to memory before the evening’s festivities would surely offer me a chance to strike.

When the opportune moment came and she stood patiently awaiting what I'd built up to tell her, I managed to cluelessly stammer ''Je pep pa pee pea pee pa” before yelling ''I THINK YOU'RE VERY BEAUTIFUL'' and running away. Whole. Day. Wasted.

This week, in my continued torture session, we revised our basic numbers and learned how to count up to 199. I used the term “learned” extremely loosely. You’ll find this is a regular occurrence.

However, counting appears to be pretty straightforward, as you "simply" break down the tens, and sort of cobble it all together. To say 27 for example, you say the 2, plus the 10 and then the 7. Dva deset sedam. Perhaps the most useful knowledge gained so far, as now I can say the number of the apartment I live in when I stumble out of a bar at four in the morning. Except by that point, my head will be mush and I'll just shout ''twenty-seven'' at the cab driver while making aggressive charades gestures with my fingers.

The Croatian alphabet is hilarious, isn’t it? Seven extra letters I think? All those little diacritical marks (I just had to look that word up) which change the way the letter sounds. Some of them are downright preposterous and I think you’re all just having a laugh at my expense. “Č” and “Ć” for example. What’s all that about?! You should be having a word with yourselves.

Our tutor did admit to there not really being that much difference and even Croatians sometimes don’t really notice it. What a relief that is then. I’ll be sure to continue to order ćevapi or čips in exactly the same way.

To finish, we were given a very useful handout on the four magical words; izvolite, molim, hvala and oprostite, and I’m going to make it a mission this week to really commit them to memory. With the best will in the world, I always intend to revise the previous lesson, but as we’re all climbing the stairs towards the classroom of doom, not one of us has looked over anything we went through last week. Now that I have a handout though, I’m going to do it. I promise. It’s all in the handout.

I’m going to scribble little post-it notes and stick them all over the apartment, covering any hideous graduation pictures in the process. I will do my homework this week miss; I don’t want to risk getting the slipper again.

So, tune in next week when I won’t have learned anything by then either.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Leprosy, Bitches and a Burek named Desire: Lost in Translation in Croatia

Like I said last time, language can unite and it can divide!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Smallpox, Diarrhoea and Free Hand Jobs: Lost in Translation in Croatia

Language is a tricky thing. It unites us and it divides us, either way, it can be very funny.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Croatian Language Favourites: Which are Your Top Five Words?

I will never be fluent in Croatian, but I speak well enough to get by quite well these days in the Croatian language. It has been a long linguistic journey, full of regional dialects and other impossible obstacles, but I can now make myself mostly understood. From the moment I learned my first word in Croatian (punomoc - power of attorney), it has been a linguistic voyage of discovery, and I have learned many cool words and phrases on the way. Here are my top five favourites.

1. The Croatian Language and Its Finest Phrase -  Ajme (meni)

Pronounced AY=meh, this has become the phrase I use most often, especially when things don't work, which is often the case here. It translates as a mild form of Oh for F*** sake, and it is the one phrase I seem now to use whichever language I am speaking. I lost count of the number of times I said Ajme meni in public in Munich, only to see shocked faces from the many Croats in Munich who were in the city.  

2. One Man's Pot is Another Man's Signature - Potpis

This was the second word I learned in Croatian after 'power of attorney'. It means 'signature', and there are no prizes for guessing that my reason for coming to Croatia was to buy a house. What makes this word funny for Brits is the English meanings of the two syllables. Pot and P***, and there is a very common phrase in English for people who have no money. The phrase is He doesn't have a... see the photo below for the rest of the sentence. Some Australians on Brac were so impressed, they named their company Potpis d.o.o.

3. When the Croatian Language Embraces Free Love - Radodajka

A noun which appears in female form only. Literally, a female who is a happy giver... Having been happily married for years now, I have never met a radodajka, but I have heard they are fun.

4. Vukojebina

How to describe this one politely? A vukojebina mjesto is a place where wolves go to get romantic with each other. Usually a fairly wild place.

5. When the Croatian Language Combines to Find Woodstock (Almost) - Vukojebina radodajka

A girl from Newcastle on a Friday night. 

(Photo credit Piotr Witorski)

For more on the vagueries of the Croatian language, click here.

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