06 June 2006

"False Friends"

A story on the importance of linguistic skills:

Tannah and I, in France (the day after we were engaged), were exploring the Roisny-sous-Bois mall, in walking distance of l'Hôtel Balladins, to pick up a memory card for the camara and a KYO CD, at Carrefour. Except I got so, so nauseous...I started vomitting in the mall. And it's not discreet...you have to pay to go to the McCleans (public bathrooms) and I didn't have change, so I threw up in the trash cans. But because of terrorism in the past, all the trash cans were clear, with clear bags, so it was very, very obvious, what I was doing.

Anyone who's taken a linguistics class knows about "false friends"--words that appear to be one thing when compared to one's native language, but aren't. One I learned early on was "asistir", a Spanish verb. Looks like it might be the infinitive of "to assist"...but it's actually the infinitive for "to attend". Another such word, in French, is "médecin"...looks like it might mean "medicine", doesn't it? Yeah, I thought so too. So anyway, here I was being ill and Tannah trying his best to ignore my public display, and a man walked up to me and touched my shoulder. He asked if I needed help, and I replied, "J'ai besoin du médecin"...trying to say, "I need medicine." He nodded and relied, "Oui, je suis un médecin"...or, "I am a doctor." (FALSE FRIEND! FALSE FRIEND!) Well, I thought the word for "doctor" was "docteur", and that I just wasn't making myself clear and so we went round and round for a few minutes until he smiled and said very plainly, (in French), "Go to the pharmacy, look for the green cross." Lo and behold, I discovered Vogalib, man's greatest creation...

So, the moral of the story is, beware of false friends. It won't ever really get you in trouble, but at best, you'll have an interesting little anecdote, and at worst, you'll be plenty embarassed.

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