Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lost and Lonely in Translation

A Stranger in a Strange Land - Sherwood K. Zern

"Don't try to understand them; and don't try to make them understand you. For they are a breed apart and make no sense." (Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans)

The nice British man at the hotel health club showed me how to push the correct buttons on the treadmill, because I don’t treadmill much or ever. It’s boring and a little too hamster-like. Besides most of the exercise “machines” are set up for giants.

I’m more hobbit sized or hamster-esque.

Mostly, I enjoy dancing my way to fitness in zumba class or punching my way to a better attitude through combat kickboxing, where I can pretend to front kick giant bullies to death. 

Anyway, there were no zumba classes, so the nice young man was pointing out the various treadmill buttons: hamster wheel power on; cliff incline going up; mountain avalanche going down; trudging speed; time left to trudge; number of cookies worked off; etc.

When he pointed to the giant red stop button, I looked at him and asked, “So does that mean the same thing in England as it does in America?”

“Sure,” he said. “Stop means stop.”

Sort of, except when it doesn’t.

Last night our British waitress disappeared for twenty minutes, because she had to “put a cake down” she later explained.

The table full of Americans looked at her—confused.

“You killed a cake?” someone asked, shocked.

“What? No. What?”

“In America, when you “put something down” it means you killed it or are going to kill it; like when we’re going to put Fluffy down. Like that.”

“What? No. What?”

Is it any wonder that the world is a boiling kettle of misunderstanding? It’s so hard to make sense of each other. Honestly. Who kills a cake?  You might “polish it off” but that’s about it. And England is a country that speaks American, except when they don’t. 

My husband asked a cab driver if they do any “mutton bustin’” in England.

The cabbie replied, “No, we leave that to the Welsh and we call it sheep shaggin’.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. Mutton bustin’ is putting your children on the backs of sheep and letting them get bucked off.”

Not the same thing at all.

And that’s why conflict and invasion are inevitable, because dialogue is filled with the endless land mines of misunderstanding, confusion, and kooky talk.

Sheep shaggin’ indeed! Who let’s their sheep run around with a bad haircut from the seventies?

Linda (Shag Cut) Zern


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