Posts Tagged ‘Language’

An Eggz-Pat Rant


Tired Old Tales for Thursdays
(Recently I feel as if I might have turned into one of these…)

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

As my main motivation for travelling is to learn languages, it makes very little sense for me to spend too much time hobnobbing with other Anglophone ex-pats, so I have always avoided their company wherever possible.

And there is a certain sort of Anglophone ex-pat that I am more than happy to steer clear of. An example of which I was unlucky enough to encounter just the other day:


Ex-pat (with just the right amount of snooty condescension): So, you’re here on holiday?

SV: No, I live here.

Ex-pat (peeved): Really? Whereabouts?

SV: In an apartment near the mayor’s house.

Ex-pat (suspiciously): Really? Well I’ve never seen you here before.

SV: Ah. Well I can assure you that I have been here for a couple of months now.

Ex-pat (with dawning realisation): Oh!…

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Emotional Incapability Need Not Be Terminal


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I have recently been taught that good communication may well be the key to making relationships work.

It is also, apparently, the key to saving them – those which still have the whisper of a pulse, anyway.

For when the dust settled on a sudden and inexplicable rift with Tigger/Toyboy, and I was at last capable of having a meaningful conversation without ending up snuffling pathetically into a hanky, we sat down together and had a good long chat.

We talked, really talked, and realised that despite the relative brevity of the relationship, really talking had been allowed to slip fatally low on our list of priorities.

And although I had certainly been aware of its descent, it was Tigger who actually troubled to point it out.

It was assuming that had stepped in to take the vacancy left by really talking, and assuming makes a very poor substitute indeed – as well as of course making an ass of you and… well, I’m sure you know the rest.

The trouble with assuming – besides being very different from the actual knowing that tends to come from really talking – is that it relies quite heavily on the experiences and past observations of the assumer.

Not ideal when the assumer and the assumee have an age-difference of almost a decade, come from extremely dissimilar cultural backgrounds and communicate in a language that neither of them speaks to mother-tongue standard.

So having established that what we both wanted from each other was considerably different from what we had assumed we wanted from each other, and that what we both want is to be together but with a little more dedication and a regular helping of really talking, Tigger and I managed to retrieve what we both thought we’d lost for good.


This is Status Viatoris, working at making a relationship work, in Norfamtonshire.

Florence Snoozingale


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I recently slipped on my fetching Angel of Mercy Lycra (with matching cape) in order to drive an elderly neighbour to his hospital appointment.

There were two factors that made this a particularly selfless act: the first being that the appointment time of 7h30 necessitated a hideous 5h45 roll out of bed. The second, that the gentleman in question should by rights suffer from alarmingly low levels of oxygen, so rarely does he draw breath between monologues.

Not that he is devoid of interesting titbits to impart, simply that at 6h30 in the morning, a brief exchange on matters meteorological followed by a long and contemplative silence is about all I can manage; especially when negotiating (surprisingly busy at that ridiculous hour) Italian roads to an unfamiliar destination.

But never mind, thought I, a reviving fresh-morning-air trot around the hospital carpark with Pooch will serve to nimble-up my mind for the demands of the return journey.

Except that the nursing staff, mistaking his friendly monologue for early onset dementia, determined that I should accompany my charge through all his procedures – blood tests, ECG, X-Rays… – “just in case he needs things explained to him, he seems a bit confused.”

The nurse made absolutely no attempt at discretion whilst imparting this bit of bad news, so elderly gentleman and I were forced to roll our eyes humorously at each other at the general absurdity of the situation.

“Um. I’m foreign. Your patient may be 82 years old, but I still feel that he probably has a better grip on Italian hip-replacement lexicon than I have.”

T’was to no avail.

Thus my much longed-for refreshing open-air stroll was replaced with the enforced shepherding of our monologist through the stultifying atmosphere of three different hospital waiting rooms.

Needless to say, by the time we exited the last appointment, I was in no fit state to partake of anything even remotely resembling conversation.

But there were snippets of chatter that did manage to penetrate my weary brain:

– He chose to divorce his wife over twenty years ago, but she is the only woman he has ever loved.

– He doesn’t eat breakfast, he just tells himself he did if his stomach happens to rumble.

– He longed to join the priesthood until a spell in a seminary showed him some (undisclosed) horrors within the Catholic church that caused him to leave immediately.

– He loves our Little Italian Village but hates many of the characteristics he perceives in people from this region: avarice,  stinginess, an unhealthy obsession with money, a distrust of others.

– He gathers his firewood from round the village when on his many daily walks.

– He once found 120€ in an envelope and handed it in to the police station.

– He sleeps so deeply that even if you picked him up and carried him off, there would be no chance of him waking up…

…unfortunately for the aforementioned weary brain, my driving was unequal to the task of lulling him into such coma-like slumber 😉

This is Status Viatoris, wondering how on earth she is going to get her Angel of Mercy Lycra and matching cape dry in this weather – she never knows when she’ll be needing it again, in Italy.

A Tribute, or a Massacre?


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Italy has always been a musical country – one only has to sneak a glance at the impressive roll call of classical composers to realise that. And today, despite having some more than respectable home-grown talent especially in the rock department: Vasco Rossi, Negramaro, Litfiba and Ligabue, to name but a few; many Italians are also very keen on the English language stuff.

Hence the existence of the myriad of tribute bands that perform in bars, clubs and at village feste throughout the summer months. Their musical talent, although amateur, is usually fairly indisputable; it’s the singing I cannot help but take issue with.

For if you are going to make a habit of standing up in front of a crowd to warble in a language not your own, surely you would first take the trouble to learn  how to pronounce said language, no?

Apparently not.

And it is not just in Italy that I have noticed this particular phenomenon; I have also had the misfortune of bearing witness to dodgily yodeled “English” in both Spain and France.

The crime against articulation takes two different forms, and for demonstration purposes only, we will be using the first verse of the song “Rocking All Over the World” by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival:

Oh here we are and here we are and here we go

All aboard and we’re hittin’ the road

Here we go

Rockin’ all over the world

Singer A has heard this song a thousand times; he thinks he knows the words off by heart. But not only does he not speak English, he has never even seen the song written down. Combined factors that render him incapable of distinguishing the end of one word, from the beginning of the next. He therefore does not actually know the words off by heart at all, but has instead learnt an approximation of the sounds. NOT THE SAME THING, LADDY, NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL.

Thus we are hit with:

Oh he waran he waran he wargo

All awaran wittin derow

He wargo

Rocky allora dewer

Singer B has also heard this song a thousand times; he thinks he knows the words off by heart. In fact he KNOWS he knows the words, because he has them right in front of him when he sings. But, Singer B does not speak English. Singer B does not know what the words of the song mean, nor has he ever sought to find out how they are actually pronounced.

Thus we are left with the highly tuneful:

Oh hairy weh aray an hairy weh aray an hairy weh go

Al abo-ared weary ittin’ de row-add

Hairy weh go

Rocky al ovay der werd

Mate, you have a great voice and your musicians are a talented bunch; but please please please stop raping the eardrums of your English-speaking audience, and take some bloody English lessons!

Thank you.

This is Status Viatoris, rocking all over the world at her own leisurely and highly critical pace… 😉



status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I think we are all familiar with the concept of the nickname. I’ve had a few myself over the years, mostly courtesy of my dear father: Inky (my school days were spent in a tussle of wills with various fountain pens) and WC (supposedly Wonder Child, but I am a little suspicious), to name but a few. I also know of a Pee Wee Pete (as a child he regularly wet himself ). Then there are the rather more prosaic Garys who become Gaz, the Barrys who become Baz and the Terrys who become Tel.

All pretty straightforward so far.

When I was in Scotland, I encountered a smattering of more interesting labels (and I do hope they do not object to me taking their names in vain in this pursuit of enlightenment). There were characteristics: Guts (large appetite) and Finky (answered every question at school with “I fink…”). Then jobs: Dave Keeper (Game as opposed to Inn) and Sam Piper (Bag as opposed to the plumbing variety).

Still pretty straightforward.

Here in the more tight-knit Italian communities, however, they have taken the sopranome to a whole new level of complexity and outright incomprehension.

Due to the spreading arms of the family trees that have populated these villages, there are a surprising number of people with identical first and surnames. So when trying to identify someone, knowing their name may not always be enough. Knowing the sopranome their family was given, sometimes three hundred years ago? Now that will almost certainly do the trick.

But there are a number of stumbling blocks for an outsider trying to negotiate the minefield of the sopranome. First and foremost is the fact that rather than in Italian, they are instead all in dialect. The second difficulty is the association; the name having been awarded to some great great great great great great great grandparent for a particular characteristic, habit, attribute or activity that is no longer applicable to today’s generation.

Sometimes animals are used:

rebisu – robin

anse – donkey

luvu – wolf

gatu – cat

vurpe – fox

pasuru – sparrow

fuina – stoat

ciuira – little snail

Or jobs:

rubata buse – lit. rolling poo. Referring to those people who gathered up manure from the streets to spread on the land.

risai – rice. Maybe they grew it (I know for a fact that a member of the risai family reads this blog, so maybe he will enlighten us!)

maigelá – butcher

cueta – sharpening stone

lasu – rope

Or food:

susina – little plum

fidei puri – plain pasta

brenolu – hay

Or characteristics:

trelerfi – three lips (probably due to an ancestor with a hare-lip)

petaleta – little one

ciairina/biundira – pale (hair)

fusu – crazy

patatuna – plump

Or even more random things:

scianchela – a tear in fabric

muanda – knickers

pumelina – little button

Some come with an interesting story:

cagheta – little poo. In all probability was given to a family who thought themselves a cut above, the other villagers’ way of bringing them down a peg or two.

pegurela – little sheep. A family of shepherds who arrived from another village, and because they were considered to be a bit inferior were not permitted to settle within the perimeters of the village. They eventually got their own back, though, as when settling on the outskirts, they took all the best spots near the river. Thus when cultivation became an important activity for the community and water a valued commodity, they found themselves in a position of superiority over the villagers who had shunned them.

So there we have it; the confusing world of the sopranome. I wonder how many generations I will have to beget here before we get our very own fantastically confusing moniker…

This is Status Viatoris, who gives thanks to Slimming World for enabling the future members of her family to escape being cruelly labelled patatuna, in Italy.

Mangled in Translation


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The English language is liberally peppered with foreign words; most especially, and unsurprisingly given the historical and geographical proximity of our countries, French ones. So even the most linguistically challenged amongst us can lay claim to speaking at least a little Fronsay.

But can we really?

For although there is no doubt that ‘déjà vu’ (lit: already seen), soirée (lit: evening), rendez-vous (lit: go to) and maître d’ (lit: master of) to name but a few, have undoubtedly been plucked from the language of Molière, Dumas and Saint-Exupéry, use them in the same way over La Manche, and you may find the Entente-Cordiale tested to its limits by incomprehension.

Déjà vu in France tends to mean exactly what it says: “Do you want to go and see The King’s Speech at the cinema? Non merci, je l’ai déjà vu.” Rarely a  spine-tingling, vaguely supernatural experience to be had, despite being coined  in 1917 by French psychic Émile Boirac for just that purpose.

In France, la soirée is simply the time spent between getting back from work and going to bed. And you may pass that time exactly as you please: watch TV, have a dinner party, play chess, or stand naked on your balcony juggling ripe Camembert. Enjoy.

Rendez-vous in French is only ever used as a noun. One can make a rendez-vous, have a rendez-vous or forget to go to a rendez-vous. One most certainly cannot ring someone up and say “Hey! How do you fancy rendezvous-ing sometime tomorrow afternoon?”. C’est un big non non.

Maître d’ is an exceptionally strange term. Primarily because it would be correct if it wasn’t that we appear to have wilfully disregarded one word: hôtel. Thus we have demoted the Master of bookings and reservations, of greeting and seating diners and of waiting staff quality control, to a Master of… apostrophes?

In some sad cases, a child’s linguistic ability is compromised yet further by parents who rejoice in the corruption of fertile minds. I toddled happily off to school with a rich foreign language vocabulary; Yves Saint Martin – the house martin, courants noirs – blackcurrants, idées au-dessus de sa gare – ideas above his station and wass geher fer nicht? – what’s going on?; all of which mean absolutely nada, and made me look like a dummkopf in front of the entire class. Yes I shall be suing for hurt feelings and kaput dreams.

But the mangling of language is a two way street.

Take the word “feeling”, for example. It’s a fairly straightforward in English: (v) I’m feeling hungry/tired/on top of the world. (n) I have hurt his  feelings, (adj) how unfeeling of me… Whereas, in France “avoir du feeling” would indicate that there is a good vibe, or that two or more people have connected in some emotional way.

“Footing” is jogging in France and Spain, “brushing” is a blow dry (blow DRY, boys, don’t get confused now), “parking” is a carpark and “camping” a camp-site. Indeed, -ing has proved a popular addition to words all over the world; during the Spanish Gran Hermano (Big Brother) the term “edredoning” was coined. An “edredon” is a duvet, making “edredoning” the televised partaking in sexual activity underneath one by the housemates. Que clase!

Last but not least is the word “pudding”. I have been asked for the recipe for “pudding” in Spain, France and Italy, but I know not what it be. Because in the UK, pudding is a broad term for dessert. For said dessert, we can serve up bread and butter pudding, treacle pudding, suet pudding, Christmas pudding, plum pudding, rice pudding, semolina pudding, roly-poly pudding or Queen of puddings. But just plain pudding? Sorry, I just haven’t a clue.

I leave you with the now immortal, tongue-in-cheek question once put to me by a six-year old French boy,

“SV, why do les Anglais call urine, wee-wee? Shouldn’t they really have called it yes-yes?”


This is Status Viatoris, hoping that her readers write in with yet more examples of mangled translations, in Northamptonshire!

Crikey O’Riley!


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Apparently I swear quite a lot (substituting quite a lot, for all the bloody time would possibly be more accurate).

I don’t do it to be gratuitously offensive. I rarely swear at people (except the tossers who piss me off when I’m driving).

I also have, like many people, a subconscious radar that allows me to control my language in front of those who risk being mortally offended by it. (I’m sure my dear mother would love to be a part of that group, but bollocks to it, I say).

In English there are definitely words I am prudish about, though. While I’m more than happy flinging crap, shite, bloody, wanker and bollocks like plates at a Greek wedding, the notorious c-word had only crossed my lips once, and I still burn to the roots of my hair when I remember the occasion.

The f-word is also something that I have to be fairly riled about to use (although being a short-tempered, impatient, opinionated person, “fairly riled” is a state I enjoy on a very regular basis). However, I would be incapable of using the word in a blog post and I cringe when other people use it in their writing.

No, I like to think that most of my swearwords of choice have a sort of innocence about them. Who could honestly be offended by bollocks (unless, of course, a pair was being waved sweatily in one’s face) or infuriated by sod (except when one hangs heavily from a welly on a walk through a ploughed field)?

Of course one of the disadvantages of being a colourful linguist is the frightening ease with which you adopt the blasphemous kaleidoscope of vocabulary in other people’s languages. At best it can lead to an embarrassing case of running before you can walk.

At worst you look like the illegitimate son of a one-eyed swineherdess before you’ve even got your feet under the table.

This is Status Viatoris, who is also very fond of numpty, pillock, plonker, poltroon, Gordon Bennett, balderdash, hogwash and codswallop, surely proof that all is not lost, in Italy.

Spinning That Medicine Wheel


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Sixty-three thousand eight hundred and thirty words.

Two and a half months.

I have finished the translation.

I am exhausted.

It was a surreal experience, not least due to the subject matter. Spirit guides, dream bodies, power shields and trips to the fifth dimension are topics that would usually have me rolling my eyes in derision, so trying to write about them with the intensity and conviction of the original author was extraordinarily taxing.

There were moments that felt as if I was making what could only be a doomed ascent to some unreachable peak; just a lonely demise, preceded by a touch of digit-severing frostbite, to look forward to.

But then, with a final push, not much sleep, endless cups of tea and a lot of rude words muttered at the computer screen (or the dog, as he hovered anxiously in the hope that somebody might one day notice him again), it was over.

Am I pleased with the end result? That is a difficult one. But I do know that despite my total lack of knowledge/belief in the subject, the vagaries of the writing style, and the fact that I was supposed to be translating into American English (hopefully trash, hemorrhoids and y’all will cover that one 😉 ), I did the best I could.

I can now switch the television back on,  participate in fun stuff and even make the occasional plan on a whim, all without the now familiar feeling of guilt threatening to rise up and choke me.

I am free. Free from misplaced commas. Free from sentences the length of newspaper articles. Free from visions and power animals. Free from shamanism.

Whoopee blooming do!

This is Status Viatoris, fingers firmly crossed that the next translation is a little more edifying, in Italy.

D’un Livre, to a Book


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

After over a month of dilly-dallying (another of my specialities, but one that I most certainly did NOT inherit from my “time and tide wait for no man”, “he who hesitates, is lost” and “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” father) I am finally making significant headway with a translation project I have taken on. Terrifyingly, it is an entire book.

It is a funny old process.

I have done quite a lot of translating over the years; tourist guides, menus, Curriculum vitae, websites, business correspondence, commercial contracts, a language school prospectus – even a doctoral thesis on Spain’s export of olive oil to Japan, but never before have I been entrusted with the responsibility of converting someone’s obra maestra into a literary and commercially pleasing format.

It is a nerve-racking prospect, and possibly accounts for why I tiptoed around it for so many weeks.

Climbing inside the head of an author was never going to be straightforward, but it becomes even more tricky when the subject matter is completely alien to me. As a ‘non-spiritual’ atheist, trying to be the voice of somebody who lives by and writes about the native American Indian shamanic traditions is rather like translating from a language I don’t actually speak, to another language I have only ever read about.

But it is getting easier; frustration with the French partiality to excessively long sentences and overly elaborated language aside. And as I sit at my keyboard, the book balanced in front of me, I feel rather like a piece of a machinery in a meat processing factory; flowery French being posted in through my eyes, whizzing round my brain a few times, before being spat out of my fingertips as rather more prosaic English.

And if secretly I feel that the end result is rather like a cheap sausage – masquerading as the product of quality cuts of meat, when it’s actually mainly bollocks – I sincerely hope it is not apparent in my writing… 😉

This is Status Viatoris, who has recently noticed that words, palabras, mots and parole are now the mainstay of her existence, in Italy.

The Tale of a Runaway Train


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The very first posts I wrote, give a broad brush-stroke history of how I started my Globe (Europe, really) Trotting here and here, but don’t perhaps give any real insight into the ‘whys’ of my continued itinérance.

Despite wanting to make this blog more about my experiences than about ‘me’, delving with more honesty into this particular question will probably be quite a cathartic experience, so what the hell…

Living abroad had never actually manifested itself as a conscious desire – I was distinctly unimpressive at languages during my school years, but by my late teens I had shot myself in the foot on a variety of different levels.

Having been expelled from boarding school at the age of sixteen, (leaving with a handful of only very mediocre GCSEs and a nasty snakebite and black habit) I had no idea what I wanted to get out of life, and no qualifications with which to pursue any avenue of interest.

So whilst my peers were doing their A-levels, taking off on their foreign gap years or starting university, I was living at home with my parents, working a succession of dead-end jobs and overindulging my taste for the pub.

Having blithely waved goodbye to full-time education (probably not a bad thing as I am about as academically inclined as a slug), I knew I was going to have to take my life in a drastically different direction if I was ever to find self-respect and fulfilment.

So I did.

And that, dear Reader, is how it all started. But why has it continued?

In part because of the languages.

Despite the lack of promise shown during my youth, it transpires that I am a linguist at heart. And when you find something you are good at, it quickly becomes a pleasurable and ego-boosting pursuit. A language is so much more than just words; it is intonation, gesture, nuance. All of which are necessarily underpinned by the subtleties of culture.

Being in a country is a must if you wish to slip, chameleon-like, into its spoken tongue.

The challenge of starting from scratch and attaining the goals for survival that I set myself is also very addictive; earning a living, making friends, becoming part of everything that is going on around me.

Fitting in.

Being accepted.

And over the years, my way of life has become my identity. If I am not the quirky English girl with the heart of a polyglot and the soul of a wanderer, then who am I? What would become of me?

Maybe the time to put down roots and find out is approaching.

(Although I might just have to fulfil my long-held ambition of popping over to  South America for a while, first 😉 )

This is Status Viatoris, who in all probability should really invest in an anchor, currently in Italy.

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