Thursday, 14 February 2008

We need a miracle

Now that I know I might have to leave soon, I'm stepping the whole Polish language thing up a gear. It's not as scary as I imagined. If you try and practice French with native speakers, you are very likely to be greeted with a pitying smile, a raised eyebrow and general Gallic scorn. It's terrifying. You are aware every single minute that your mouth is simply not the right shape for all those nasal vowels and uvular fricatives and you'll never have the casual elegance of expression of the insouscient native speaker.

And you know, instinctively you know that that particular French person has also watched Tony Blair's congratulatory speech to Nicholas Sarkozy on YouTube and that that typical schoolboy British accent is exactly what they are reminded of every time you clear your throat.

Ridicule!

Polish is another matter. I know I'll never speak beautiful Polish. I'll never be trying to work into Polish or to give after-dinner speeches or to impress someone with my eloquence and wit. I have a hard time getting the right case ending, let alone using a pretty expression or developing a harmonious accent.
And nobody here expects foreigners to even try. They certainly don't expect perfection. If you can get the message across in spite of perfectives, imperfectives and a case system of Byzantine complexity, it's already little short of a miracle.

So I've started diving right in. I engage in conversation with everyone. I don't just go to the pharmacy for painkillers: I ask for precisely the perfect kind of painkillers for a splitting headache and I prefer ibuprofen not paracetamol and do you have something like that? Oh fantastic, how often can I take them... i tak dalej ad infinitum.

I am a perfect pain in the derrière.

Today, after a chilly half-hour shivering in the organ gallery of St Giles at lunchtime, my fingers gradually stiffening over plagel cadences and counterpoint, I threw in the towel* and took the key back to the Sacristan.

- It's too cold up there! I said, as conversationally as I could through my chattering teeth.
- Where? In the church?
- No... up there. Uhhh... in the mountains (my Polish is not so hot)... no, no, up the stairs.
- Ah. Well, we'll think of something. We'll have to think hard.

I crossed my fingers, hoping he was about to offer me a spare electric heater for the organ loft.

- We'll pray to God that it gets warmer soon.

- Na prawdę...

*jeter l'éponge- isn't that cool? They chuck out the soggy sponge while we choose to finish washing and get out of the bath before calling it a day. Now what does that say about the Franco-Brittanic collective psyche...

3 comments:

artur said...

there is no such things as uvular fricatives in french ,maybe in arabic.
by the way ,if you really engage in lengthy conversations with everybody ,I am really impatient to know how you tackle bums plus babcias .

pinolona said...

sorry where is the fricative [R] in French then hmm cleverclogs?? back of palate? Is it velar?

You know as well as I do that conversations with bums and babcias tend to be one-sided and generally the best strategy is to nod and smile and hope that someone rescues you soon...

artur said...

right .it is uvular and fricative.the only justification I have for myself is that most people (to the best of my mediocre knowledge )realize it as approximant not fricative.