Lost in Translation

The little travelers all attended a French Immersion School during our time in Canada. This meant that by the time the eldest little traveler was in Grade 1 all classes were spoken in only French. Homework was excruciating for G and I, we were both non speakers and struggled to help out. By the time she hit Grade 3 we were well and truly out of our depth. We sat through quite a few school concerts bursting with pride while being completely clueless as to what was actually going on. As parents tend to do, we envisaged that this would all make sense when she arrive home at the age of 25 and told us about her new role as the Head of the United Nations.

When we moved to Houston, we returned to an English speaking environment but kept our fingers crossed that she’d retain some of what she’d learnt. Now that we’re in Doha, she’s back studying French as a subject and doing well. In our parent/teacher conference the French teacher made the observation that perhaps she was sometimes a little over confident in her memory. “She knows the words but it’s remembering their order and sometimes she switches them around”.

Anyone who’s attempted learning a language can identify with this. A little bit of knowledge followed by a dollop of confidence can be a recipe for a large serve of embarrassment.

I went back to an old haunt today. An institution for expat women in Jakarta, a place on Kemang Raya called Mil and Mat that has been in Jakarta for years. No appointment needed, its a no fuss express pedicure, manicure haven. They also do the most amazing cream bath, which is kind of a deluxe hair wash followed by an extended head massage that makes its way to your shoulders. It is heaven.

Mil and Mat hasn’t changed an inch. The tiny supermarket down the road is now a three story shopping centre but Mil and Mat has exactly the same decor, same sinks, same staff and dare I say it, the same magazines.  As I laid back at the basin to have my hair washed the very gorgeous Pon (yes, that was her name) smiled and said a few words that I recalled as “you have a lot of hair”. I nodded in agreement and said “yes, yes, everyone says that”.

She had actually told me I was very beautiful.

I am now dying with embarrassment. Can you imagine. You are very beautiful. Yes, that’s right, yes I am very beautiful.

I didn’t work it out until I was half way home and saw a sign for shampoo and realized I’d got the words for hair and beautiful a little mixed up. All I wanted to do was go back and tell her that no, I didn’t think I was beautiful, not at all – I just thought I had a lot of hair.

G gave up on learning Bahasa Indonesia after we’d been living here for about a year. It was after we’d hit the streets looking for outdoor furniture. He instructed the driver, a man who took him to work every day and was fast becoming a friend, that he’d like to stop by the side of the road and purchase some small children. I can still picture the look of horror on both the driver’s face and G’s after I managed to interpret where it had all gone terribly wrong.

The sooner someone invents the language chip that we can just slot in behind our ears and magically communicate the better.

How about you? Ever been lost in translation?

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