The Devil’s Details: I Can Tell Where You’re From

GERMANY88888Whenever reading in your native language (be it English, French or Bengali), you rarely take heed of the specific grammatical and syntactical idiosyncrasies of your mother tongue. However, once you start learning another language, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a plethora of linguistic subtleties that are extremely difficult to master.

What often happens (especially early on) is that you attempt to apply your native tongue’s sentence structure to this new language, often resulting in amusing results:

Kann ich ein Plätzchen haben, bitte?

Can I a cookie have, please?

Even more interesting, however, are the figures of speech and idioms that are simply unique to your language:

J’ai une pêche d’enfer.

I have a peach from hell.

Where this really gets interesting, however, is that when you read text written by a non-native, not only do you pick up on the phrases that just don’t quite translate, but given the syntax and specific choice of wording you can actually start to identify what their native language actually is. I was reading an article the other day written in English, with no reference at all to who wrote it or where they were from. However, as I continued to read, I became convinced that this was someone from Eastern Europe – possible the Czech Republic or Hungary.

Of course, I haven’t been able to substantiate this, but it’s funny how certain things show through, no matter how hard you try to homogenize yourself.

Daily Photo: January 30, 2010

He looks a little lost…

He looks a little lost…

There were plenty of pheasants around where we lived, but we rarely came across them. This guy, on the other hand, came across us. Only our cat managed to convince him to leave our backyard.

Thought of the Week: Are They Really So Different?

A child and a grownup…but which is which?

A child and a grownup…but which is which?

It’s a funny business, living with a child. It’s a little bit like living with a mooching flatmate who is quite a bit smarter than you. (And shorter, which sort of makes up for it.)

You see, when you’re talking about children in the hypothetical (as in, “we might want kids some day”, or “aren’t your sister’s kids wonderful?”), they seem a little bit like kittens: small, furry and adorable. They’re supposed to giggle and coo and drink from a bottle and smile with a little toothless smile. Or say things like, “Daddy says mommy gets grumpy when she sits on rags, but I don’t see why she doesn’t just get up.” They’re supposed to hold your hand crossing the street, and be suddenly polite when your parents are over.


What tends to happen is they cry and vomit on you, shit on your shoes and flush your car keys down the toilet, say things like, “Mommy, daddy said not to tell you he drank six bottles of beer last night,” and then suddenly they want to read to themselves at night, and tell you off for using bad language. There isn’t really a gradual change (at least that’s how I remember it); one day they’re a tiny little brat, and then suddenly they’re more of an adult than you are.

And that’s the funny – and scary – part. Children, of course, are supposed to emulate their parents. They’re supposed to try on mommy’s lipstick, cut themselves shaving with daddy’s razor, check themselves out in big brother’s high heels; it’s what they call growing up [side note: I think that might be where I went wrong]. And you think that you’re supposed to be in control of that process. After all, the whole reason to have kids is so that you can raise them in exactly the opposite way to how your parents raised you.


It’s perhaps as likely as anything that children come from here.

The thing is, you’re not. Whatever you think you will be/won’t be/ought to be/would be if your wife didn’t nag you so much, that’s exactly what won’t happen. You turn around, and there’s this little four-foot nothing person that looks and acts like…well, like you, only better. Naturally, you ask where on Earth this person came from. Who let them in? Do they have a driver’s license? Should you offer them tea, or put them on the next flight to Pluto?

Children make themselves from what they find around them. And that is probably about the only thing that you have any say in. You see, we’ve raised Little Satis (through no deliberate thought) to speak, to think, to read and to understand. I think what might have happened is that this opened his eyes to see what was around him. And what he saw was us telling him we love him, yelling at him because he won’t clean his room, reading to him at night, and telling him for the millionth time to turn the damn light off when you leave the room (us swearing, too). And this made him. Would you like to know how I know?

Because now he tells me off for leaving the lights on. Reminds me to give him his vitamin. Points out that mommy will be angry if I leave clothes on the floor. Wakes up early because he doesn’t want daddy to be late and lose his job. Tells me to write things down as they come to me because I know I’ll forget.

And quite suddenly, I’m not sure who the grown-up here is. He’s telling me my music sucks, and I’m really sure that’s supposed to be the other way around. He’s giving mommy foot rubs, and telling her she watches too much TV. That nurturing environment? All of sudden he’s taking care of us, the incompetent grown-ups.

Then again, maybe that isn’t too bad a thing. After all, we’ve already taken care of him for eight years; it’s about time we got something in return.