The Language of a New Life 9/27/2017
Moving to a new country, I knew there’d be challenges in the form of things foreign to me. There’s the food: a bap with ballymaloe (wheat kaiser roll with pickle relish), for example, and black or white pudding (crispy fried meat discs, with or without blood). There’s looking right, not left, before crossing the street, and those little switches to flip before the electrical outlet will work. And don’t get me started on the appliances and their cryptic symbols.
, But I didn’t suspect that the language would seem almost as foreign. After all, they speak English in Ireland, right?
Over the telephone, the difference in dialect and word usage is especially challenging. When I was talking with the real estate agent on the phone about moving into my apartment, he assured me that the apartment would be ready by the “forst.” I panicked for a second. I thought I was going to be able move in on the first! Where would I stay until the fourth? I asked him if he meant the first or the fourth.
He said, “Yes, the forst.”
“Does that mean August one or August four?”
“Yes, the forst.”
When the technician from the internet company finally arrived (after one failed appointment and two weeks of waiting for a second one), it was really important to find out where he would find access to the connection in the building. I got on the phone with the great big property management company that is my “landlord” and asked where it was. A kind sounding woman on the other end told me it would be on the ground floor, in the “shiffa.”
“Excuse me,” I asked, “Did you say ‘shiffa’? ‘Shiffer’?’ ‘Chiffeur’?”
“That’s right,” she answered, “It’ll be in the shiffa.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know what that is.”
I think my statement took her by surprise, because she was silent for a few seconds.
Then she repeated, “It’ll be in the shiffa,” with exactly the same enunciation and volume.
I wondered, “Is it a closet? An alcove? A chest? A corner?”
Turns out it was a utility room on the first floor.
If I don’t understand what people are saying, I have no problem asking what a certain word means or for them to repeat the sentence. Most of the time, however, they’ll say it again exactly the same way, not louder or more slowly. After three times I usually give up and try to move on or get the gist through context.
At a bank on the college campus, there is an ATM outside with a great big sign saying, “ATM and Lodge.”
The first time I saw it, I thought, “That’s weird, to advertize lodging along with an ATM.”
I thought maybe there was some kind of motel or student housing right there in the bank building. After all, Ireland is experiencing a dire housing crisis.
Weeks later, when I went into the bank to open an account, the teller asked me if I wanted to make a lodgement.
“Aha,” I thought, “Here’s where context helps.”
A lodgement is a deposit. ATM and Lodge. Now I get it.
At a little more than two months into my time here, I am still translating in my head. The new words don’t yet have their own meanings. Crisps are still chips, and chips are still french fries.
When they say module, I think course. When they say calendar, I think student handbook.
Michaelmas term means first semester. The very word ‘college’ can mean high school.
Carpark : parking lot :: pitch : field, and on and on.
One word usage was particularly confusing for me at first: “your man.” When someone is talking about another man in the third person, instead of saying “he” or “that guy,” the Irish person will often say “your man.” I used to genuinely ask, “Who’s my man?” This word choice is so irritating to me in its confusion, that I actually have started translating this one, thinking to myself, “Remember, Meg, ‘your man’ has nothing to do with you. It’s just the other guy in the story.”
Then of course for me there’s the general lack of familiarity with the area. Names of locations like Wexford and Blackrock and Dundrum are sprinkled into conversations, and I have no idea how close or far these places are.
In a postgraduate theater meeting this week, the acronyms that were thrown around boggled the mind. DCC, UCD, TCD, DTC, CMC, DTF and many more.The time and location of the meeting was announced a few days earlier, at the School of Creative Arts (SCA) welcome party. The announcement was made before a room of about thirty new students, rather quickly and not very loudly, tossed off the tip of the tongue by someone who has been familiar with this location for at least ten years.
“Monday at 11, in the ATRL.”
“Excuse me?” I called from across the room. “ATRL?”
The answer came even more quickly, “Yeah, ATRL, ArtsTechnologyResearchLab, justgoogleityou’llfindit.”
Yesterday I sat in on my first music class at Trinity. It’s a course - sorry! - it’s a module, discussing 21st century composers. All of the students in the class are pursuing their M.Phil degrees (Trinity’s trumped up version of a master’s). They are younger than I am, and naturally less experienced. Most were born after I’d already graduated from college. As names and terms fell casually from the professor's lips (Berio, Stockhausen, Cage, Schoenberg, Nono, serialism, extended technique, etc.), the students looked a bit lost and most had little to say. They were all ears trying to absorb all of this newness.
Me, I finally felt at home.