Monday, May 2, 2011

Confessions of a Tetri Gogo: Adventures in Language

I noticed last night while having dinner with some friends that most conversations with TLG volunteers usually end up being about language. It will either be about how language barriers are difficult or how we've learned things about our own languages since being here. It's always brought up at least once in an evening.

But it's a completely valid conversation topic because language is always around us. Language makes up about 75% of our lives. And I don't mean just talking, I mean 75% of our lives is taken up by explaining grammar, speaking veryveryvery slowly, thinking about how we should phrase something in the most bare bones manner, trying to speak Georgian, and generally thinking about speaking or others' speech.

Although it can be incredibly frustrating sometimes, it has resulted in quite a few anecdotes. I will now share with you the most recent ones, which are also the most hilarious...

The other day I was with a friend in a second-hand shop owned by two little old ladies. These women were just sitting around when we came in. We were meandering among the clothes and the two ladies didn't pay us much mind, they continued their chatting. My friend and I both went up to the front of the store (not that it was that far away from the back of the store). For some reason the two old ladies got up out of their seats and stood there staring at us. They didn't come any closer to us- mostly because for them to be any closer we would have had to give them piggy back rides. So there they were, about a foot away, staring when suddenly I hear one of them mutter, "Tetri gogo [თეთრი გოგო]" For those of you who don't speak Georgian that means "white girl." I can only image that I was the "white girl" in question because I'm pretty damn white. I have no idea what I did to illicit such a phrase being hurled in my direction, I don't even know if it was meant to be an insult. All I know is that I had to fight the urge to crack up laughing. It was such a strange interaction.

Later that day my friend and I went to a cafe. Our choice in cafe was probably not a wise one- we went to the more popular cafe in town where all of the students go (okay, it's one of 2 cafes in town, so it's not like we had a whole lot of choices). Not surprisingly after being there for a little while we were quite literally surrounded by students, all boys.  And they were forming a radius around us. Personally, I do not like a. large crowds of teenage boys, and b. being the center of attention. So this was really not my scene. Not to mention most of these boys went to my school and knew my name, despite the fact that I had never seen them before. I really wanted to leave. However, the problem with having a radius of people around you is that there are no secrets. So I implemented the weapon of ex-pats everywhere: slang. I often use slang and speak quickly when I don't want Georgians to know what I'm saying and it usually works pretty well. So I turned to my friend and said, "I want to peace." Now, I say that slang usually works because after I said that I wanted to "peace" one of the boys turned to me and said, "The toilet is in the back and to the right." I think after an interaction like that all you can do is leave and leave quickly.

Those are some of my better run ins with language and misunderstandings thereof. I'll spare you the tedious and frustrating ones. I hope you've enjoyed them and maybe you will better appreciate the next conversation you have.

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