|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/09/13 10:50 《英语学习》|
Sometimes It's Just Words 愈冒失愈快乐
By Diana Rachel Goldenberg 菩杨 选注
One of the most important lessons I've learned from raising a family in a foreign country is that the generation gap is sometimes just a matter of linguistics.1
I am an American living with six children in Israel. Our children speak Hebrew, Arabic, and English.2 I can speak a tad of Hebrew and a tidbit of Arabic.3 The gap between us, therefore, is not a matter of age, sports heroes, or musical tastes. It is simply my inability to master languages that they picked up in no time. To our kids, I will forever be the foreigner, the greenhorn4, the mom that all their friends love to mimic.
I remember one of my most amusing oral gaffes5 that I committed one bright and early school-day morning. A school friend6 had slept over, and everyone was eating breakfast.
I cheerfully asked the boy what I could give him for his lunch. "What about some fruit?" I asked. "How about some rocks with your lunch?"
"Mommy!" The kids all shouted in horror. "Mommmmmmmy!"
I had wanted to say "anavim", which are grapes in Hebrew. Instead I said "avanim" ?plain, ordinary rocks. To this day, my children remind me again and again of the innumerable mistakes I have subjected them to.7 At the bank, they cringed8 when I asked about the jelly (ribah) instead of the interest(ribit). At a school meeting, I told the father of one of their friends that I'd sat on top of his wife the day before, when I meant to say that I'd sat next to her. And at the stationery store, I planned to ask for a shekuf, or clear folder, and instead, I blurted out that I needed a shezuf, or suntanned folder.9 The store owner ?never one to pass up an opportunity for a good laugh10 ?asked me, "Do you want the suntan lotion to go with it?"
Languages always provide opportunities for foreign speakers to amuse natives.
An Israeli friend who just moved to London called me the other day, panic-stricken. She said she had to find a new butcher. "What was wrong with the old butcher?" I asked.
Tamara told me that after she had ordered chicken cutlets that morning, she'd asked the butcher to "pound" the cutlets. Only she had translated the word "pound" from Hebrew into English, and ended up with a vulgar word that had sexual connotations.11 Tamara said she was thinking about becoming a vegetarian12.
I find my linguistic faux-pas entertaining at times,13 and they've never stopped me from trying to make conversation. On a family outing the other day, we stopped to buy fresh pita14 from an Arab woman. I spoke to the woman in a
mixture of Arabic and Hebrew and then we stood with her, eating the warm freshly baked pita. After we finished, I called out, "Shookran" ?"thank you," in Arabic ?and we drove away.
"That was fun," said my 16-year-old son, Ari."And she gave me extra pita for free!" my 14-year-old daughter, Amalia, said. "Why do you think she did that?"
"Because we were friendly and made an effort to talk to her," I said.
For once, my kids did not even giggle about any of the errors I had made as I spoke to the woman.15 That made me realize that although I might not be able to show them how to speak a foreign language fluently, I had still shown them how to drum up the courage to move to a place that is foreign and unfamiliar.
More important, I can show them that the gap between parents and children in our family is sometimes just a matter of linguistics. It is nothing compared with the rifts among people around the globe.16
Not only that, but with a few kind words and smiles, we can try ?and succeed at ?communicating across the far more challenging cultural, national, and religious divides.
2. Hebrew: 以色列通用的现代希伯来语；Arabic: (北非、中东一带许多国家使用的)阿拉伯语。
3. tad: 微量； tidbit: = titbit, 很少量的东西。
4. greenhorn: <美>新到某地的人。
5. gaffe/g*f/: (社交等场合的)失礼，失言。
6.a school friend: 指家中上学的某个孩子。
7. 直到今天，孩子们还一次次说起我让他们领教过的数不清的洋相。 subject to sth.: 使遭受……。
8. cringe: 畏缩，指感到为难。
9. blurt: 脱口说出；suntanned: 给太阳晒黑的。下一句中的suntan lotion是指晒日光浴用的护体乳液。
10. (他)从不放过任何一个开玩笑的机会。pass up: <口>放过(机会等)。
11. 她只是把希伯来语中的“pound” 转成了英语，结果却变成了一个有性隐喻的下流词汇。vulgar: 猥亵的；connotation: 隐含意义，内涵意义。
12. vegetarian: 素食者。
13. 我发现自己的冒失话有时令人愉快。faux-pas/#f2%#p4:(z)/: <法>有失检点的话(或行为)。
14. pita: 皮塔饼，中东地区用大麦和面粉做的一种扁圆形饼。
15. 真是破天荒头一遭，孩子们一点儿也没笑话我和那位妇女讲话时出的错。for once: = just for once,破例一次。
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