Thursday, 18 February 2010

Accidentally causing offence

Why is it that when learning a new language, the only words that are easily remembered are the swear words? Which means of course that you are left with a load of ways to be rude to people, admittedly helpful whilst driving in Bosnia but not ideal when you are trying to exchange pleasantries and ingratiate yourself into the nursery gate club.

The thing that I have noticed is that not only do I know the swear words, but I frequently get them muddled up with other, every day words. So I’ll be chattering away, massacring their language in a very British way with everyone smiling indulgently at my efforts and then, suddenly, their eyebrows fly through the roof and I realise that once again my Bosnian Tourettes syndrome has struck.

In particular there are 3 pairs of words that I cannot get straight in my head. First up are the words for eat (jede) and fuck (jebi). I’ll be chattering away and in my head, as I’m approaching the point at which I want to say ‘eat’ my mind will go blank and all I can do is think jede/jebi? Jede/jebi? Panicked I usually plump for the wrong one.

Then there is the write/piss combination (pisati/pišati (pronounced pishati)). This one is further confused by the fact that when conjugating the verb (ooo, get me, a real life linguist using words like conjugating and verbs as if I know what that means) they merge into each other. Pisati becomes pišem (pishem – I write) which just is remarkably similar to pišam (prounounced pisham meaning I piss).

My last set of words that I cannot get straight in my head is probably the worst. I want to say that we walk. This is something that we do a lot of, I mean we have a dog and there isn’t much else that I can do with 2 small boys that is guaranteed to tire them out. So we walk every day. Without fail. Come rain or shine. And every day I normally have to say to someone that we are going to go for a walk. The verb for walk is šetati (shetati). What I always find myself saying is ševiti (shjeviti). I still don’t know what it means, but when I say it people gasp, cover their mouths, widen their eyes and I know I’ve strayed into the really offensive territory, yet again.

We all know that  it is easy to accidentally offend, especially in these days of remote communication. Messages sent by email, twitter etc. don't have the body language to allow the recipient to see that it was not intended the way in which it came across. It just so happens that I don't need to be remote to cause accidental offence and I need the body language so that people can see my foul mouth is just a combination of a mind going blank (again) and a complete inability to rise above being given the leaway to be able to swear in polite society and get away with it.

25 comments:

Nina said...

Re: shjeviti, people probably look surprised because you've told them you're going for a shag.

Heather said...

ha ha, yup, i have similar problems myself! It's a nightmare at times isn't it?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Nina - thanks, I've never managed to work out what that word means. I like to think that I provide a bit of amusement for everyone else!

Heather - total nightmare. I'm beyond caring that I'm making a fool of myself though, it is the only way to do it!

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

I'm glad Nina has solved your "shjeviti" problem. I though it might be that the words were similar as they are in English. 'Walk' is only one letter away from 'wank'.
But it isn't that so now I've written a naughty word on your blog. Bugger!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I know it's not funny but it sounded it in your post!! The written word is often difficult to understand and can very often cause offence if put wrongly.

CJ xx

Owen said...

I bet you're glad the boys aren't old enough to understand!

nappy valley girl said...

That is very funny.....I love that to piss and to write are so similar, I'm sure there's a witty comment to be made there although I can't think what!

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

I shouldn't laugh but I am. I don't think I've managed to hugely offend anyone yet, there's time though. x

hampshireflyer said...

The worst bit is the word that actually sounds the most like 'piss' is the one that isn't!

Laruca said...

Yes, I've often pissed on paper myself...

Iota said...

Just another good reason not to Twitter!

Glad Nina has been able to enlighten you.

Diney said...

I think I offended son's drama teacher a while back (and that was speaking in my own language)....I referred to Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Willy Wanka.....it just slipped out and I don't know who was more shocked!

WeDoAdventure said...

On a similar - although less rude front - Rowan once told a waiter she needed to cry, it being just a letter out from needing to pay!

planb said...

A friend of mine had the same problem in french. "Branler" is to hang out doing nothing much. "Se branler" is, well, to pleasure oneself (see Trish's comment for a more accurate translation - although even that's a bit polite). Imagine the delight of the bunch of French teenagers being taught by my mate Steve when he told them that he'd spent the whole weekend "en me branlant".....

Babies who brunch said...

very funny! it's a bit like when you are introduced to someone and then immediately get their name wrong, even though you've only just heard it. well, sort of....

newdaynewlesson said...

Thanks for that laugh! Had a really good chuckle at the comments as well!

Athena125 said...

I'm still laughing... Sad, I know, but I can actually imagine the faces of the people you were talking to...

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Trish - I've never thought of that before. Ps - why is it that swearing is so much fun?

CJ - It is funny. I think I get away with it, as they know that it is a mistake.

Owen - I think they understand it well enough! Sigh.

NVG - me too.

VBC - Do laugh, I am!

Hampshire - I think that is why I can't remember it.

Laruca - I think everyone who learns Bosnian has at some point!

Iota - can you imagine? I'd be a liability. Just don't know if I could curb my impulse to say inappropriate things.

Diney - hope you both found it funny!

WDA - did the waiter look concerned? They are close those words aren't they.

Plan B - it is funny though. Bet the adolescents loved it.

BwB - I do that too. And then spend the rest of the conversation hoping that they are going to have to introduce themselves to someone else so I can hear their name again.

newday newlesson - Glad you enjoyed it.

Athena - there are regularly some raised eyebrows! But I think I get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

...oh my god, I laughed so hard (do forgive me).
I KNOW how difficult it is to learn a foreign language (...as I had to do it as well...english in my case).
I'm so curious as how you ended up in Bosnia out of all places...?

best of luck,

alex

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Hi Alex - glad you enjoyed it. I have to say that i have enjoyed my attempts into Bosnian, and most people are really appreciative of my efforts to learn. I don't think I've really offended anyone.. yet. Most people seem to find it funny. As for why Bosnia. Oh it's a long story. But, I'm researching a PhD and my husband has set up a software development company here. Having said that, we're going back to the UK in April. Are you Bosnian?

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

hilarious! I have the same problem in Albanian! there are also amusing words here in Albanian like 'shitet' on the backs of cars meaning 'for sale' & when talking to Albanian friends who speak English I have to remember to refer to my car as my 'vehicle' becasue car in Albanian means 'willy' so it can sound quite strange if I am explaining to someone that I use my 'car' every day or that I need to move my 'car' etc.
Th e othe r problem I have is that son & devil are exactly the same word but 1 with a single L & 1 with a double L (wch I can't pronounce properly)nor remember wch way round it is

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

Thank you for answering my questions. I find it very interesting. And NO, I don't think you have offended anyone there....if anything they would just give you a smile (as you mentioned).
Yes, I'm Bosnian, however, I live in Edmonton, Canada now.
I wished that I've come upon your blog sooner, in order to offer you some sort of a support. (even though, I'm not there, but just in case)

To let you know, I like England...been to London, Coventry, Nuneaton. The country side is just fantastic. Love the European architecture. (it's built to last)

alex ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

Thank you for answering my questions. I find it very interesting. And NO, I don't think you have offended anyone there....if anything they would just give you a smile (as you mentioned).
Yes, I'm Bosnian, however, I live in Edmonton, Canada now.
I wished that I've come upon your blog sooner, in order to offer you some sort of a support. (even though, I'm not there, but just in case)

To let you know, I like England...been to London, Coventry, Nuneaton. The country side is just fantastic. Love the European architecture. (it's built to last)

alex ;-)

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Paradise - giggle giggle. Why do I find this so funny? Is it because I spend too much time around small boys for whom willy is the funniest word you can possibly say, except possible fart? And slightly disturbing that son and devil are so similar...

Alex - thanks for the offer and to confirm that people aren't really offended. The problem is now I know I can get away with it, I can't resist using naughty words in polite conversation. Really, I must grow up! Glad you liked England and come back and visit Bosnia soon.

Anonymous said...

-hehehehe, you are funny, that's cute.
Ahhh, yes, having to visit Bosnia is on my to do list....I haven't been back ever since I left :( [which is many years ago]
Perhaps I'll visit Bosnia next year. ( I hope)
take care,
alex