Monday, March 15, 2010

Here's a dance you should know

Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a real falutin', hootin', hollerin,' countryside Flemish birthday BBQ. Not firing your gun into the air in celebration? But surely Europeans aren't country the way Southerners are!, you might say. So I thought, too, until the country music started twanging from the speakers and people actually started line dancing to In Zaire by Johnny Wakelin. There was even a song about Indians where at one point enthusiastic revelers clapped their hand over their mouth and made the "woo woo woo!" Indian noise. I was mystified. I was jealous, even. They never taught me these songs in redneck public school. "But this comes from America!" everyone told me - the lyrics had just been changed into Dutch!

Not again, I thought.

Case in point: International Women's Day, which people were shocked I had never heard of because it came from America. As I discovered, Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th and consists of all women workers getting flowers at the office. It's kind of an unofficial second Valentine's Day where men are guilt tripped into buying more stuff for the ladies. Because it's targeted specifically toward women workers, my first impression was that it had socialist or communist roots (which it did). After that it kind of made sense that people from South America, China and Central and Eastern Europe were the ones who had kept celebrating it. But I'm not so surprised it was dropped in the US: "Socialist" is a bad word these days, plus to be politically correct we'd have to have a men's day too. And a transgender day. Oh, the politically correct possibilities are endless.

In the end, of course I was completely wrong about the songs heard at the Flemish hoedown. They were totally American. Just check out the Hucklebuck and I dare you to stay in your chair and not dance along with Norton and Ralph.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How the Saulpaugh girl lost her accent

I feel like a Garcia girl...recently a friend of mine told me that I have "significantly lost my American accent after coming to Belgium." Never mind that I was in Poland for a year before that. Even at work, the Canadians I hear on the phone confuse me with an Austrian girl on our team (she's a far cry from the Governator of California, but still!).

Is it a good thing or bad thing that I now seem to be fluent in "International European English"? It's already become second nature to avoid obscure idioms and slang, mostly out of sheer laziness, but does that have the effect of making me a lazier thinker overall? And as a former coworker once told me, does living as an English speaking expat strip you of your personality until you fluently speak the local language? As someone who will soon make making a living as an in-house writer, I've gotta think about it.

When I first went to Poland, I made myself a list of common mistakes that, no matter how long I stayed abroad, I would not make. This mission has already failed, but nonetheless, here they are, in all their grammar Nazi glory:

1. Saying "Make the picture" instead of "take the picture". Once, I even said I was going to "make the bus tickets" in front of my translator friend. Man that was embarrassing.

2. Forgetting articles such as "the" "and" & "a". This one only happened in Poland, where they don't use articles. Flemish has articles, so they seem to do better with it here.

3. Saying "How it is in English?" instead of "How do you say it in English?" or "What it is in English?"

4. One for Belgium: directly translating the word abonnement to "subscription." If you go to the gym, it's a membership. If it's an event for work or a class, you sign up. If it's a yearly train or bus ticket, it's a pass.

5. Incorrect use of "does": "What he does?" instead of "What does he do?"

6. Answering "fine" to "What's up?" or "Nothing" to "How's it going?". Actually, I was guilty of this one in the US, too... mostly based on being an overall awkward person.

7. Saying prepositions like "on" at the wrong times, like "I was on the party" instead of "at". Prepositions are so hard to learn in a language that's not your own, so I will cut everyone some slack. In other words, please don't ask me the correct ones in French...

8. Saying "kitchen" instead of "cuisine", and other borrowed words. In English, it sounds fancy to say cuisine in terms of type of food. Kitchen is the room in your house.

9. Confusing "funny" and "fun" and "bored" and "boring"

10. Saying "take" a beer or meal instead of "have" a beer. This one is my all time favorite since it suggests that my friends are asking me to go around stealing beer from the tap at pubs.

So, who wants to go take a beer tonight?
No, not from my fridge.