Vol. $@&%#! – Wading Into the Phrase

This post isn’t one of mine, but rather one that my friend Peter Gregutt wrote.  I think you’ll enjoy it!

Many Western travelers (Americans in particular) make little or no effort to learn the local lingo, opting to let their money do the talking — preferably by leveraging the natives into mustering a couple dozen words of mangled English (or whichever other neocolonial tongue might apply).

But with an estimated 6,800 languages on the planet — not to mention the innumerable grunts, groans and amplificatory hiccups that determined deipnosophists worldwide instinctively sprinkle in by way of punctuation — getting your message across can definitely be a challenge, particularly in certain high-stakes situations.
And while any sort of comprehensive communications guide lies decidedly beyond the scope of these abbreviated pages, the following key phrases — transcending geography, culture and propriety alike — may prove helpful when the fertilizer hits the ostrich feathers:
“How do I convince you to lower your gun?”
“Serio pressyuga boom-boom donshoatmipleezibeg.”
“Where can I hide when the police/army/rebels/gang members come?”
“Arndevi cryptomai polizi/militari/fri-fri/nogudi goboomya arriva nau?”
“Is this food or paving material?”
“Durabili roki-rok dupipil rili eetit ya?”
Is that a very large rat or an unusually small dog?”
“Squili-squili sobeeg pitipat gidovmaleig yuk!”
“Will you accept this wristwatch/camera/jacket/wad of worthless East German currency as payment for my fine?”
“Goyingo tiki-tiki/foto-foto/noreyni/faki-faki expresso payo-payo onogulpai?”
“Despite my lack of papers, I am a good person.”
“Memol emteepokit eemo benefrisay guti-guti sirto.”
“All of my family members are dead, and there is no one who will ransom me.”
“Nohopi tuti morto gulpi-gulpi no payo-payo hopi litgo.”
“It’s a deal.”
“Okeh bro shaki-shaki yugotit.”
“In God’s eyes we are married for tonight only.”
“Deo OK fiki-fiki uni nocto winot hey?”
“Let’s do it.”
“Ooba looba suki-muki yum-yum mini nau-nau oboi.”
“I will pay you.”
“Holo dinar molti bagga-bagga ritenau.”
“What do you mean there’s no transport from here?”
“Huachatellin nomaki gogo notaki noplais?”
“Will we get there before the next lunar eclipse?”
“Baunsi neverendum aldistino muni-muni nosinuttin?”
“Only one wheel of the bus is still touching the road.”
“Gravitas humpi-bumpi ono wiralgonadai!”
Many voyagers, of course, resort to some sort of full-blown phrase book, dictionary or sophisticated digital device to see them through such troubling moments. But since clarity is the very lodestone of communication, and cultural sensibilities can suddenly flare up like a violent coronal mass ejection, we hereby offer these additional helpful hints:
When You Mean… Say…
bribe fine
threat         incentive
broken fingers         persuasion
highway robbery        free enterprise
rattletrap        taxi
dromedary        limo
Bactrian camel         bus
pangolin        dinner
charred monkey carcass        barbecue
wriggling larvae        active ingredients
utterly indigestible        high in fiber
malodorous, viscous liquid        dew of heaven
hovel        Hilton
haystack        Posturepedic
flea-ridden        thriving ecosystem
cesspool        nitrogen cycle
pestering vendor        friend
pimp        good friend
pimp’s sister        very good friend
soldier        father
judge        grandfather
policeman        esteemed uncle
petty official        venerable brother
beggar        younger brother/sister
persistent beggar        mother-in-law
obnoxious fellow traveler       second cousin once removed
principal thug        godfather
Of course, it’s equally essential not to overlook the considerable potential for nonverbal expression. Novices often make the fatal mistake of assuming that this quintessentially physical medium is best suited to communicating such rudimentary messages as “Where’s the nearest toilet?” “Is this room equipped with Wi-Fi?” or “Do you know anyone who does quality breast-reduction surgery at a good price?” In point of fact, though, whole solar systems of sophisticated semantic content can be conveyed solely via gestures, facial expressions and body posture.
The trick is to match key details of dynamics, orientation and embouchure with the precise shade of signification one is aiming for. Thus, scowling, shouting and shaking your fist clearly imports “My dermatologist insists that doing this during thunderstorms will smooth away those telltale worry lines.” But if, at the same time, you lean slightly to the left while drawing counterclockwise circles in the air with the tip of your nose, the meaning subtly shifts to “Who do you think will win the next presidential election?”
When all is said and done, however, forging fruitful international relations is really just an exercise in patience, requiring nothing more than respect, good faith and a sincere desire to bridge the yawning chasm of suspicion and ignorance that tragically divides us. So when trouble arrives, your best bet is generally to take your cue from U.S. foreign policy and reach for your gun (or, failing that, your prayer wheel). But if neither one is handy, take a deep breath, open your mouth and just start jabbering…

Maybe you’ll get lucky and an earthquake or volcano will suddenly erupt, or a meteor land on the demandant’s head, before he or she can squeeze the trigger…

Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist living in Asheville, North Carolina. He has traveled the world documenting the tears, joys, laughter and lives of people everywhere. He currently focuses his camera on the same topics in America. His work has appeared in such diverse publications as USAToday, CNN, Upsurge, Dream Row and others. A portion of his income from each photo shoot is donated to organizations that help the homeless in the communities in which he works. You can see more of his photography by clicking here.

One thought on “Vol. $@&%#! – Wading Into the Phrase

  1. Where are you Jerry? Missing my weekly constitutional. Come back and give a peek into your world soon.

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