Don’t you just love the differences in language. It often makes me stop and smile at how strange it is that we all speak much the same language within the scope of the English language, yet the way we say things, and the slang sayings that develop in certain areas of the world leave others speaking exactly the same language feeling mystified as to what the devil you’re talking about.
Take for example this afternoon. We went for lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant and it was pleasant enough. It was interesting to note that a large number of elderly people were out for lunch, a number of tables were taken up by groups of ladies chatting away enjoying the atmosphere and good food, so it was quite laughable when one of the ladies we were with asked the waitress, a young Chinese girl “where the ladies were!” You could see the perplexity and confusion on the girls face as she glanced around the many tables of ladies, and you could almost see her thoughts written across her face. When it was explained that the woman at our table was actually enquiring about the location of the commode, it all became much clearer much to the young girls delight. But I did have a quite chuckle to myself.
I recall when I was much younger that one of our most common sayings just before I ventured to the UK was that if anything was good it was “dope”. So if you’d been out for a great night on the town, on the phone to your friend the next day, you’d have a really “Dope night out!” Once a saying is entrenched into your lingo it is so hard to stop saying it, but on arrival in the UK I quickly learnt that when you called something “Dope” here it meant something very very different indeed. Don’t get me wrong, dope was a word just as commonly used in Zimbabwe to describe marijuana, but a Zimbabwean would perfectly understand that when used in normal wording you were not declaring that you were out to by a eighth of hash!
Much of my family now reside in Canada and there are some really amusing stories that come from their experiences over there. In Zimbabwe it is a common term for someone eating sweats and wanting more to ask for the bag of sweeties to be passed over. So one sunny spring day my sister and her family went out to a fair passing through their city, which just happened to be on the river. Many people were gathered watching the floats go by on boats and so I guess in a way were more realistic floats on this occasion. Hmmm. Anyway, Tom being Tom had taken a large bag of Toffee’s with the group and the bag had been passed along the line and he wanted another one. At the very moment he declared down the line to “Pass us the sweeties” a float with a team of drum majorettes happened to be passing along, and everyone around that heard Tom, began to whoop and wolf whistle and laugh out loud. Somewhat perplexed at the time, Tom was somewhat red faced when later that day, one of his friends that had been with him explained that in Canada sweeties refer to the two mounds of a woman’s cleavage, so someone with a nice pair of sweeties is man talk for a woman with a great chest. Considering that it was a boat full of young scantily clad woman on the boat at the very moment he announced to the crowd to pass the sweeties you can just imagine what the Canadians took it to mean. 🙂
I remember on a visit to the states we’d gone shopping for some cotton to sew a button onto a suit my dad needed to wear. We went into a department store, and eventually located the haberdashery where there were a multitude of reels of cotton on display behind the counter. A friendly young man came over and asked if he could help. “Can I have some black cotton please.” my mom asked. The assistant went on to explain that for cotton we needed to go upstairs to the third floor and ask in the outfitting section. Somewhat confused we discussed it on the elevator up to the third floor and my mom commented that maybe it was only a display down stairs. On arrival at the outfitting section, there was a large selection of material around, but no appearance of any cotton. My mom asked an assistant if she could please get her some black cotton. “Certainly, how many metres would you like?” the assistant required. Baffled my mother looked at me and I could only but shrug. “How ever many metres it comes in!” my mother replied very uncertain of what was going on. The assistant disappeared for a moment and returned with a roll of black material which she put on the table. “It comes in 50 metre lengths,” she informed us. “No, no,” my mother said. “I need some cotton to stitch a button to a coat please.” “Oh! You need thread! You’ll find that on the first floor in the haberdashery,” the assistant said. Exasperated my mother exclaimed, “You’ll never believe it, but that’s where I started this adventure!” and off we stormed.
It’s good humour to sit and talk about the times you’ve gotten into difficulties with language barriers, and the differences in our terms for certain things. I often sit and try to remember the expressions and slang from my childhood. Things that only a Zimbabwean would ever say to you and you’d know exactly what they meant. Terms like “exsey” “lacker” “bevvie” “hooters” and so many more. I lot I have forgotten and it’s not till I speak to another Zimbabwean that a penny suddenly drops and you suddenly think, “hell I haven’t heard that word being used for a long time.” We often get so caught up in our lives that we forget the little things that matter to who we are and the things that we left behind as we grew up. People and places influence us. A trip to South Africa will probably affect you with the expression “Kiff” meaning that it’s great. “I had a kiff steak today.” Would mean your steak was something pretty special. Everyone is your “Bru” and close friends are your “Muckers”.
I enjoy the intricacies of language. It is fun to learn and be different, but I think in a way it’s also important to try and not forget. Language and how you use it is an expression of who you are and where you come from, and loosing that identity makes us all monotypical and grey. The expression and unique complex array of uses of words and phrases makes travelling and seeing those differences the colours of life. If we all learnt to speak the same it’d be boring and dull. Cling onto that uniqueness and enjoy your differences. After all, shouting for the sweeties in a public place will get you noticed, and maybe you’ll make some new friends as a result.