Thursday, 31 July 2014

July 28 - Greek bloopers

(By: Pip)

From experience I know what fun it gives and how much more easy it is if you speak and understand the local language. So I intended to learn Greek as fast as I could.

When I had just arrived on Lesvos, a Greek man came up to me. He seemed to be in a panic; he showered me with a stream of words and I didn't understand a word of what he said. Even though he repeated himself at least three times I had not the slightest idea what he wanted, although it became clear to me that he needed some help. What was the matter? He did not speak English and so he tried to speak with his hands. He pointed to the scooter saying Bloop. Bloop? Nai, bloop!I wondered what he meant with bloop? The man got irritated that I did not understood him and he took me by the arm to a nearby well and repeated his bloop, bloop, in the same time pointing to his scooter. He pointed down the well and motioned as if he was fishing in the well. And then I finally got it: he had dropped the key of his scooter down the well and wondered if I had a rope and a magnet. No, I did not have those items.

After this, I intended to quickly learn Greek and I started with the alphabet. That did not help much, because then I could decipher a written word, but had not a clue of what it meant. And I am very lazy when it comes to looking things up. To keep the story short: after a few months I had not learned much more Greek than the common phrases that all Greeks exchange each day. When somebody starts speaking Greek to me, I still do not understand much of it. It's so bad that when a Greek says 'nai' to me, I keep on thinking it is a negative answer because it seems so much like all other European no-words: no, non, nein, nee. I still have problems realizing that 'nai'  in Greek means yes. Greeks have experience with this misunderstanding, they can see the humour of it and mostly laugh it away. They are not mad at me for not speaking their language. Most of the Lesvorian people (in the tourist areas) speak English and so we work out together what we mean. If that fails, there always is sign language.

Greeks have championed the art in using their head, hands and other body parts. They often use so many movements to support their words that it may look as if they are engaged in a serious row. It took some time for me to realize that this was their usual way of having a discussion. Just like I have only just now learned that when they move their head down it means a yes and when they throw it backwards it means no. The gesture for come here(ella), can be interpreted as go away (only the fingers are moved towards the body) and when a finger is held in front of the mouth it is not to say that I have to be silent, but means that they have to tell me something. It is a pity such movements are not universal because it causes many misunderstandings.

Gestures are cultural and set. And so they are very stubborn. The movements a police officer has to know in order to regulate the traffic might be easy to learn, but gestures that support a conversation or express feelings or thoughts come from the genes. Foreign ones are not easy to master and your own ones certainly not easy to ignore. You use them as automatically as you walk. For instance, I keep on sticking my thump up when I agree with something or I find something cool. This is a gesture you had better do not do in Greece, because it can be understood as 'fuck you'. And you do not want to offend a Greek, do you? Even though I know this, my thump keeps on going up. Youd better control also your forefinger in pointing things out; it is the same story and it can become a very offending finger for a Greek.

Even though I keep on using crude gestures, the Lesvorians keep on being polite and nice. The gesture I like most is a subtle movement of the head that Lesvorian men use to say hello when they pass in a car or on a scooter. I think it a very sensual gesture and each time it melts my heart. But automatically I carry on answering with the wrong gesture in saying hello back: waving my hand with stretched fingers: this is stupid and so totally wrong! This gesture in Greek means moutza!', best translated as asshole!

If I continue with these gesture bloopersand I don't learn the language very quickly, I am afraid that one of these days the Lesvorians will teach me a less than nice little lesson.

© Pip 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment