Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conversational Confusion

This week has been a tragic one in India. I don't feel like I can ignore the situation without being disrespectful, however I also don't think I can do justice to the subject. Instead I will provide a link for those of you who may be interested in reading about it, but as for my small corner of the Internet, I will try to provide a little distracting comfort with the silly and the trivial.

In the past couple of weeks we have had several repairmen in our house. I am sure you have noticed that this is a recurring theme. Things here look real nice, but require a lot of upkeep. I am not sure why. In the past two weeks the following things have required repair or replacement:

Kitchen hot water heater
Upstairs hot water heater
Upstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Downstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Washing machine
Dryer door
Electric tea kettle
One wall outlet
Generator automatic on/off thingy-ma-jigger (sorry for the technical terms)
Oven door
Stove controls
The still ongoing stone replacement on the outside of the house

One of the things that always presents a problem when I am trying to facilitate the repair of anything is communication. I speak Englindi and they speak Hinglish. Each of us speaking just enough of the other's language to cause problems and confuse the situation even more. For instance, if I ask when they will return to complete the repair they always, always, always answer "kul." Now, "kul" translates as "tomorrow". It can also be translated as yesterday, but since I don't think they plan on using a time machine to repair my washing machine yesterday (which would be very convenient), I assume they mean tomorrow. Unfortunately, in reality it seems to mean, "Sometime in the near or distant future, or perhaps when you have called us several times but absolutely under no circumstances will I be back tomorrow." You can see why this would be confusing.

Next on the list of confusing customs is the question sentence. The question sentence is a sentence that disguises itself as a question. Imagine that you are in the 2nd grade and your teacher says, "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the...?" Her voice goes up on the word "the" just as 25 children's hands shoot into the air. The lucky chosen child answers, "plain!" However, in the question sentence the repairman might say, "The lock on your dryer needs to be...?" At this point he pauses just long enough to have my inner 2nd grader bouncing in her seat yelling out, "Repaired! Retooled! Reworked!...Re-purposed!" But before I can even draw a breath he says, "replaced." The other day I was listening to a lovely woman who was speaking completely in question sentences. It sounded something like this, "I was going to the? Market. I needed to buy? Bread. I couldn't walk to the market because because my knee was? Paining. The traffic was so bad, that I couldn't even get a? Rickshaw." It was exhausting. No matter how many times I told myself that she was not asking me to guess the last word of her sentences, my brain just kept trying.

The final and most famous Indian conversational wonder is the head bobble. Come on. You know the one. If you haven't seen it first hand, then you have seen it imitated. You've even tried it yourself. No? Not even in the bathroom mirror? Liar. In a typical conversation this can mean yes, no, maybe, of course, I'm listening, I have no idea and finally, what are you talking about you crazy American. The trick is figuring out which head bobble you are looking at. I have heard countless theories and systems that other Americans living in Delhi have come up with to differentiate between the many varieties, but eventually they all fail. You can spot the new arrivals to India because they actually try to get a translation. Mr. Smith spent his first three months in the office doing something like this:

  • Mr. Smith - This job is for a very important customer, it must be on time. Will it be finished on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Is that a yes or a no?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Wait, does that mean it will be on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - (Eye begins to twitch.)

See? Confusing, right? After a while you do begin to get the hang of it. Some foreigners have even incorporated the head bobble into their body language vocabulary. Not me though. I know when I'm in too deep.

At this point I should probably apologise for my spotty posting. Mr. Smith has been really nagging me about it lately. So, right know, in front of witnesses, I promise that I will post again...kul.


SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Really, the more frequent posting is for your benefit. After you return to the US, you will remember so little of your sojourn; you'll need the blog posts to jog your memory!

Aunt Carol said...

I agree with suburban, keep post so you can remember all the "fun" you have had. Besides I check once or twice a day to see if there is a new post about the Smiths. Miss you all, stay safe

Ange said...

Amy - I sheepishly admit I am one of those Americans who has adopted the bobble. It is SO convenient! Dave just about has it perfected, although I will admit, I don't always understand what it means. For me though, I use it with my kids and it usually means "I hear that you are talking to me, but I don't have the energy to respond in a verbal manner, so please just go play and leave me alone." :) LOVE your blogs... you capture everything so perfectly.

Mrs. Smith said...

S.C. and A.C. - Good point. A person who has as hard of a time as I do remembering the names of her own children should probably have a written account.

Angela - I had never considered the "go away and play" translation. Maybe I should update my list of possible meanings.

ellen said...

hi there - I was thinking so much about you this week - it is unnerving I am sure - but I am comforted by the fact that you could find something humorous to write about instead.

The Silly Nilly Family said...

I am sorry for the troubles there in India and that was very thoughtful of you to include it, thank you. NOw I must say you are hilarious! I loved reading, and it sounds like the repairmen there share something in common with the American counter parts, the tendency to disappear before a job is done and mysteriously be gone for an unannounced amount of time. Take care (Jen Swann)

Mrs. Smith said...

Ellen - Thank you for your kind thoughts. Thankfully all of my family was safely in Delhi. Mr. Smith had a trip to Mumbai planned for this week, but it has been rescheduled.

Jenn - Although it is tough to get things repaired, the "plumber's crack" is not a problem here. See? There are perqs to living in India.

Mr. Smith's Brother said...

Can't do the head bobble, though Scott did try to teach it to me when we were home last time. I do have the belly jiggle down pretty good though!

Hunnydu72 said...

I almost wet myself reading this one. Well, first I went to the article and wanted to arm myself like an American would and hunt down some terrorists, and then I wanted to check the yellow pages for 'traveling handyman', and then I tried to bobble my head and ended up with a nice neck crackle. I can't do it either. Is the head bobble a secret handshake? Pardon me for just catching up!

Don't you dare stop posting! Pfft!

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