17 July 2006

To 'n' Fro

Fancying myself as a linguist with an 'ear', I affect fussiness over tone and accents.

All the more galling, then, during my stint back home with the Hong Kong Tourist Association to never quite get the Cantonese introduction right, but to be always introducing myself as working with the 'Hong Kong Girlfriends' Association'.

At first I refused to believe that my pronunciation was anything but excruciatingly correct, but my colleagues mocked me otherwise.:

"OK, then, if that's how it sounds, why aren't I being hounded for discounts on my member list?"

"Perhaps they are too polite."

But here's a really really really good example of the importance of getting it right.

I'm down in Zoe's salon the other day to have the bouffant Fauntleroyal locks trimmed and there's a Brit lad from the marina in the chair, a veritable aurora borealis of tangled ginger curls awaiting Z's shearing.

One of these flash types who fancies himself on the phrase book, so he's telling Zoe (who speaks perfect Anglika) that, "Thelo El Afrow."

Now, 'I want my hair trimmed' is indeed 'Thelo elafró kópsimo', the accents falling accordingly and the pronunciation ò as in 'hot' sans the 't'.

Zoe looks at me, in Greek, "He wants an afro??

"Yo, dude - you want an *afro*?"

"Not an afro (reaches for phrase book) ... I, er, want an 'elafro'. I'n't that a haircut?"

Fond laughter. Ah, he wants an 'alefrò' - not an afro alefrò'.

"Sump'n funny, then?"

"Nah, mate, just a little misunderstanding. Is all cool."

"Great. So ... you been 'ere before? Like how much it going to cost me?"

"Ten evros and I usually give two bits tip."

"Oh, right, thanks, mate."

Zoe (in Greek): "Po' po' - you *never* give two."

"Lady of my fondest gaze (untranslatable, but not an endearment I'd use in the hearing of *Mister* Zoe, unless I wanted to feel the his fondest knuckles on my dentures), we've just saved him walking out of here looking like a carrot-top arapis . Take the two and buy Vasìlis an ice-cream."

Soaping a black man: Speaking of afros and arapis  (Greek equiv of the N word), I acquired a wonderful phrase the other night as I searched to translate a leopard not changing its spots.

Oh, they said, you mean like 'Try to wash a black man, you'll be wasting your soap'?

PulEEZ!, I exclaimed.

Well, it's apparently perfectly normal usage. The translation is horrific but racism over here doesn't wield the same hard core incorrectitude it does elsewhere in Europe and in the States.

Ton arapi ki'an ton pleneis, to sapounisou khalas.

Arapis comes from 'Arab' and absolutely equivalates to the N word.

For yonks, Arabs were the only dusky hued types of which the Greeks were aware.

It still carries no stigma or hostility, but dates back to when the Greeks found mild amusement that skins could be owt but white.

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