Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Translating Bug

My parents have happily been spending my inheritance by visiting every corner of the world since their retirement. I'm cool with it, really, except for the fact that they insist on bringing me t-shirts from all these places. I have Hard Rock cafe t-shirts from Helsinki, Cairo and Costa Rica. Have I ever set foot in these places? Not even close. Do I even LIKE Hard Rock Cafe? Not really, no. But my pleas of "No more t-shirts!" fall on deaf ears each and every time.

In between their world jaunts, they have taken to hosting international visitors. They started doing this when I still lived at home and, because my parents absolutely SUCK at hosting guests, I often spent a lot of time carting people around town, taking them to do touristy things and helping them find the right geegaws to take back home to their family and friends in Whereverslavia.

Sometimes, we were lucky and the guests were fairly good English speakers. One Russian guy spoke no English at all. Somehow, we managed to surmise that he liked basketball and I was able to arrange for him to go to an NBA game and meet a Russian player. The player translated stuff the poor guy had been holding in for days: "My room is hot as hell and the sheets smell. I hate cold tea, please don't make me drink it. I want Coca-cola. I want to buy camera and Nike sneakers, size 12. I have two kids and they want Mickey Mouse dolls." What was never explained was why this guy disappeared for hours on end every night. He SAID he was just taking walks. We suspected he was hustling men in bars. It made for a good story, anyway. "This is Alexi. He doesn't speak English. In Russia, he works construction. In America, he is prostitute."

Even the best English speakers still had little problems here and there. Asking questions and putting the words in the right order were the hardest. It's something that, strangely enough, I hear the Bug do a lot. In her best Russian syntax, she'll ask, "What this is called, please?" or when talking about herself, saying, "You would like cookie, yes."

Despite my best translation skills, her oddly translated statements and questions still confuse me sometimes. For instance, pulling her chair out for her, I hear, "You will not pull out the chair."
Right, Mommy will pull it out for you.
"Noooo. You will not pull out the chair!"
Right, gotcha. Mommy did it.
Tears welling in her eyes, "NOOOOO! You will NOT..."
Oh! Yes, I understand! Mommy, don't pull out the chair. I see now! Don't cry!

You ok?
"Yes. She is YOUR chair. NOT Mommy's."
Whuh...nevermind. Eat your dinner.
(Pointing to couscous that is shifting on her plate) "This is doing what, please?"
"This is doing what?"
"It is doing what?"
I....uh....darlin', you got me. I don't know what you're saying.

And that's when, I'm quite sure the Bug and I are thinking the same thing: "God! Where are the Russians when you need them?"

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