Last year, when I decided to try 52 things I’d never done before, I made certain that the list included learning to swear in several languages. Because that’s the kind of person I am. And because if you’re not gonna add that to a list of new things to try, was ist der verdammte punkt?
I began by deciding on about a dozen languages (Klingon included) in which I’d like to fluently curse. Either because I’d once visited places where these languages were spoken (Klingon included) or because I have a few Dutch friends who’d get a kick out of me shouting you suck de ballen van een ezel! This was going to be l’explosion d’une putain!
Until I looked at the list of languages and it suddenly occurred to me that I already knew how to swear in nearly all of them. Klingon included.
¿Qué coño? What kind of person am I that I actually know how to correctly swear in several languages?
How has all this been filling the corners of my mind where other, more meaningful foreign phrases, such as where’s the bar that makes the best margarita or I’ll give you five euros if you do that again when I’m sober should reside?
What the hell is wrong with moi??
I mean, I can certainly see how I picked up a few of these colorful pejoratives. Like all frequent international travelers, I’d learn a helpful phrase here or there, a few of which would incorporate themselves into long-term memory either because they were used with a either great deal of regularity or enthusiasm – or both. But it worried me that, when I conducted an inventory, my own personal collection of foreign phraseology was wedged somewhere between the profane and the absurd.
And these things I could say weren’t even very helpful! Other than French, in which I could comfortably parlez from within the constraints of a taxi cab or airline gate to ask important questions like may I have a croissant, what time does my flight leave and is that your cheese, I knew only bizarre sentiments and statements in other languages that would require I practically create a situation in order for them to be spoken with any inkling of sense.
I swear I’m not kidding. Here’s a truthful list of some oddities I can speak in other languages:
SPANISH: May I sharpen your pencil?
(a botched sentence from a junior high school Spanish class)
GERMAN: Do you speak German?
(taught by a snide German seatmate while on a flight to Munich. Of COURSE they speak freaking German!)
SPANISH: Can you direct me to the nearest whorehouse?
(overheard at an Irish pub in Boston)
SWEDISH: WOW – this is huge!
(learned while at a grocery store in Switzerland)
POLISH: Are those your real breasts?*
(asked of me at a Greek restaurant in Amsterdam)
ITALIAN: That was amazing, but let’s not tell anyone.
(you don’t want to know…)
MANDARIN: I’m sorry I can I say that I love you.
(a combination of phrases that, chained together, create the wrong sentiment)
SPANISH: Please stand clear of the doors.
(thanks to the monorail at Epcot in Disney World)
ROMANSCH: How much for that goat?
(I accidentally left off the word cheese)
Seriously: can you imagine what I would need to do to find a situation in which it’s not at all unusual to ask, may I sharpen your pencil? One of the many reasons why long-term substitute Spanish teachers should not be permitted…
I suppose the good news is that I have had a wide circle of friends from a diverse range of countries. Apparently with a broad spectrum of interests. And a twisted sense of humor. Who have bestowed upon me the kindness of sharing with me a part of their culture by teaching me to properly swear and order beer, amongst other things, in their native language.
The bad news is I that no longer travel. At least not since the authorities confiscated my Passport for speaking aloud such atrocities…
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