Having recently run into hapless taxi drivers taking me anywhere but where I’ve asked to go, I’m stepping up learning the lingo. ‘Learning the lingo, eh?’ is something my Aussie neighbour would drawl as he staggered home after a night at the pub. He’d lean his battered Gladstone bag on our fence and sway while listening to my recital of Dans le Bois, a French poem I was preparing for my test at Alliance Francaise. Inside the house my parents would be arguing while watching TV and down the back, in the kitchen, my eldest sister washed up while listening to the Top 40. Sitting on the front steps under the street lights, was my escape from the racket, and my own little theatre.
When work took us to Ujung Pandang in Indonesia, I picked up the language readily but not before an embarrassing incident played out in front of my neighbours. Coming home laden with shopping, I asked the maid to grab the kucing and open the door:
The Maid: But we don’t have a kucing, Ibu.
Me: Here on my car keys…quick open the door
The Maid: I can’t see a kucing on your car keys
Me: Here! Here! In front of you the kucing..take it and put it in the door
By now the neighbours had gathered to watch the spectacle and burst into laughter when once again I demanded the maid put the cat in the door (kucing=cat/kunci=key)
What’s worse is that I visited my Greek relatives which I had not seen in over 40 years
They threw me a party with flowing wine, drink and dance and so overwhelmed me with love that I burst into tears and blurted out, ‘Your welcome has made me suicidal!’ The party ended then and there and I wondered why everyone was giving me such a wide berth. It wasn’t until the following day I realised I had mixed up the word suicidal with the Greek phrase for emotional, and thankfully the wine , food and love started to flow again. Although raised in a Greek house, my language was adulterated because my parents, like other migrants, would mix it with the English they were learning so you would get things like:
carro=car= Grk. mahxi
friza=refrigerator= Grk. psiyio
In fact my Greek in Greece was so bad that my cousin wrote out all my lingo just so she could laugh at it after I’d gone home.
What I enjoy about having access to the Greek language is the many words whose root meanings come from the Greek. Here in Arabia I have come across several: tea, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, chocolate.
I may get taken for a ride by the local taxi drivers but I will never starve!