Life

On language and the three words I always learn

Whenever I go anywhere that has a different language to me, the first and sometimes only words I learn are “hello”, “no”, and “thank you”. 

Why those three words? When people are always staring at you for being white, “hello” is absolutely essential (Halo or Salaam). When other people are hassling you, it’s vital to know how to actually refuse them (Toda). And because when you’re constantly relying on people to bring you food, give you tickets and have a room for you, it’d be ridiculous not knowing how to thank them. (Ti-ri-ma-ca-si, which I found impossible to remember until I was told it equated to Tear out my car seat). 

When I told my dad this, he didn’t understand why I didn’t just muddle through rather than bothering to learn this in advance. But it’s really important. As I’ve said, if you don’t make an effort to be nice to and respect people, why should they give you anything at all?

A fairly obvious problem with travelling with others and therefore talking with each other is that others can hear and understand you — if they speak your language, as many people do here. We’ve started coming up with code words for things so that people don’t understand. The “fuzz” are the police, who frequently shoot by with sirens blaring. “Mosey” is to leave. And I’ve also decided that if I encounter any trouble with men, to call him my husband…