Thursday, May 17, 2007

Your French Can't Save You Now

You know, normally I'm not a person that gets easily unnerved with language barriers. Happily, I was cured of all my dignity while living in Japan. There's nothing that undermines your serious facade better than having a child poke you in the breast and say "Kimo-chee!" (That feels nice!). I mean, really.

So after that, I feel like there's nothing more I can do to make myself look like an idiot, I might as well go ahead and have fun with it. And I've come to the conclusion that it's often more fun - and just as effective - to pantomime what you need, anyway. Besides, isn't something like 80% of communication actually come from your body?

But today I hit a wall - well, I car, actually. (That reminds me, I'll have to tell you about the traffic situation in another posting - but just believe me when I say - it's bad.) Turns out that Azerbaijani is a Turkic language , with roots both there and in Arabic. Also, it's useful to remember that Azerbaijan was, for 70 years, part of Russia. It's not very helpful that I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO SPEAK ANY OF THESE LANGUAGES.

Not a big deal, right? English is the new lingua franca, right? WRONG. Today I spent three hours in a car with a driver who only spoke Russian, darting in and out of stores trying to get quotes from people who only knew Azerbaijani. I mean, at least in Japan I knew how to say "Hello", "Goodbye" "Otoiru (toilet)" and "I am Hitoyoshi (watashi wa Hitoyoshi desu!)". Here, there's none of that. NONE.

Although today (and I could've reasoned this out on my own, had I thought about it), I learned that to say hello, one says "Salaam" (as in Salaam Alaykum, a common arabic greeting - oh yeah, did I mention they speak Arabic here, too?) And to say thank you, you say "Çox sağ" (ha ha, I know what you're thinking but it's wrong. Try saying it this way: 'chuck sow'.)

Ok, just as I get this down, I get thrown the Russian. He's a nice guy, but there are lots of awkward - well, everythings. I have a list of the streets and shops where I'm going, but he needs to call his friend, Imron (whom I've met and is the driver on another project of my company's, so I trust him). He then puts me on the phone with Imron and I tell him where I need to go, then Imron gets on the phone with Elyar and relays the message. This happens at every place I go, except when I tell him the name of my hotel. That, he knows. At one point, when I was looking for a bookstore, he actually put me on the phone with his brother. At another, he was all "Don't you speak Russian??" (To his credit, he did say this in English).

My response was, "Vous comprennez francais?" (the only other language I even remotely know. I obviously wasn't going to try japanese on him...)

Right. No dice.

So I was thinking, as this poor Russian guy whisked me all over town, what an absolute outsider I was and how pretty ludacris my whole position is. Here I am, trying to rent office space, get utilities and buy furniture - all in language (and culture) of which I have no INKLING of an idea. The other associate who was going to go was atleast fluent in Turkish - me, all I have is my spirit and good looks (and even those are fading fast!)

If that wasn't insult enough - I'm also hiring for a few positions - and spent the better half of the morning digging through resumes of people with at LEAST four languages (English, Azeri, Russian and/or Armenian/Turkish). Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez. I am dum!

Anyway, the thought frittered across my mind (not for the first time) that I am crazy, my job is crazy and my boss just might be nuts for sending me here.

Also, that four years of college French have been an utter WASTE.

After I got done digesting this little speck of humble pie, I asked the driver how to say Thank You in Russian. As we zoomed in an out of traffic, through back alleys and even onto the sidewalk at one point, the conversation went like this:

"Elliot (at this point, I still thought his name was Elliot)
"??" (unnerving me by taking his eyes off the road...)
"Elliot, how do you say thank you? in Russke?"
"Um, Çox sağ? You know Çox sağ, yes?
"Çox sağ yes yes, tank you."
"Ok great. Çox sağ is Azerbaijani. Thank you is -
"and whatwhatwhat is Russke?"
"Russian. Russia. Soviet. Red. Lenin. You know the whole thing."
"Oh Ruskayoreoiovadksisak?" (atleast, that's what I thought I heard)
"Çox sağ Azerbaijani; Tank you is Engl - Oh! Spasiba! (spa-seeeee-ba)"
(me, thanking the makers of the SAT for that little trick): "Spicey bar"
"No, Spaaa seeeeeee ba"
(Eliyar taps on breaks, slows down): Spa (me: spaaaaaaaaaaa) Seeee (seeeee) baaaa (baaaa).

He seems relieved when I finally get it. And write it down.

He even laughs when I use it later, as he drops me off. Hey, just because I'm under qualified doesn't mean I can't learn!

M is for Man Am I Tired,

1 comment:

Nate said...

It's unfortunate that the two recognized international languages are love and music, because it sounds like neither of those will be of much use to you over there.

I'd suggest that you start using pictographs, but considering how frustrating a single game of Pictionary can be, doing that for days at a time might end badly.

Good luck.