Ingo and Meryam, a couple I’d met in Sri Lanka, happen to live round the corner from Frank.
After a brief phone call, over they come, armed with tea leaves from the subcontinent. My eyes light up; others seem indifferent, reaching for the treasure chest of alcohol bottles instead.
On the south-west coast of Sri Lanka – or “Ceylon” as the odd pompous fart in Britain (like me) still calls the island – Ingo’s nationality had quickly become evident. While lounging on the beach discussing a restaurant for lunch, he suggested an eatery: ‘It is eight minutes by feet,’ he said.
Yes, he could only be German. Or possibly Swiss or Austrian. Anyway, later, he apologised in case his German efficiency was in question – the walk took nine minutes due to a bus completely blocking the road.
‘Ach so’ in German, I am told, means ‘really?’, though not necessarily as a question – it can be used as a reply when something of interest is said. The funny thing about ‘ach so’ is the extraordinary likeness, when spoken by a German speaker, to ‘arsehole’.
I decide to use this riveting revelation when Ingo demonstrates a restoring function on my laptop, just after he presses Alt F5. ‘Arsehole,’ I cry, delighted with my deliberate mispronunciation, and wondering why the rest of the room is regarding me as though a ghastly apparition.
Impressed with my grasp of German? As an event trucker in Europe I expect you’re wondering how fluent my European languages are? Well, I long ago gave up learning any language that ascribes a sex to such mundane items as tables.
The French regard a table as a woman – odd, but I’m accepting it – yet the Germans refer to it as a man. With logic like this, my excuse is that I may just as well stick with the marvellously expressive medium of English.
The subtext, of course, is that I am useless at learning another tongue, but don’t really like to admit it on those terms alone. And I’ve already forgotten what Alt F5 does..