Saturday, 30 January 2010

My embarrassing Afrikaans trips me up again

I did 12 years of Afrikaans at school, though you would never say so. My vocabulary is okay but my accent is so awful that when I do attempt to praat die taal (speak the language), Afrikaans speakers look alarmed, say, ‘Skuus?’ (Excuse me?) then, when they realise what I’m trying to do, collapse in hysterics. It’s a little dispiriting.

I only realised how appalling my grasp of Afrikaans actually was after I’d lived in this small town (occupied, certainly back in the day, anyway, mainly by Afrikaans-speakers) for several years and was suddenly required to have a henhouse made for the already large and rapidly growing family of chickens I unexpectedly found myself owning. (Two notes here: (1) For those thinking of going into at-home poultry, chickens breed like rabbits; and (2) I did not, as many city folk do the minute they move to the country, go out and acquire a flock of chicks: these, like many of the other animals that now call my house home, simply arrived one day and wouldn’t leave.)

I asked around about where to find a chicken run and discovered (not surprisingly) that most local folk make theirs themselves. Not me, though: I can hang a picture like nobody’s business, but don’t give me a jigsaw unless it’s made of 1 000 pieces.

Finally I was directed to the farmers’ warehouse in a neighbouring town, and off I went.

‘Middag,’ I said to the woman behind the counter. ‘Ek soek ’n hoenderhok.’ (Afternoon. I’m looking for a henhouse.)

‘Skuus?’ said the woman, her eyes widening with what might have been fear but, okay, was probably mirth.

‘Ek het hoenders,’ I said, and made flapping motions with my arms, ‘en ek het ’n huisie vir hulle nodig.’ (I’ve got chickens and I need a house for them.)

The woman made a strange farting noise with her mouth (which I realised, in retrospect, was her trying not to chortle) and said, ‘Gaan loer ’n bietjie op die kennisgewingbord,’ then she dropped suddenly out of sight behind the counter (which I realised, in retrospect, was where she went to giggle her guts out).

So I went to look at the noticeboard, as instructed, and there, front and centre, was exactly what I was looking for: a posting (in Afrikaans) offering tailor-made hen houses. Brilliant! I took the number and toodled off home to phone the man.

When he answered my call and I tried to speak to him in Afrikaans, he immediately switched to English (which, after tittering, is what most Afrikaners do when they speak to me – a small courtesy for which, I must add, I am always immensely grateful). His English wasn’t great, but it was a damn sight better than my Afrikaans.

‘So, how big do you need it?’ he asked.

‘Oh, big enough for, say, a family of 10,’ I said.

There was a silence (which, in retrospect, I realised was stunned).

‘Ten, you say?’ he said.

‘Yes, a mom and nine babies,’ I said.

Another silence (in retrospect, even more stunned).

‘Look,’ he said. ‘I can maar [just] give you my biggest one. Will that do?’

‘That will be perfect!’ I trilled. I have a large plot and a large henhouse was just what was required.

We agreed a price and a delivery date, and on the appointed day, he turned up, with a trailer hitched to his car. And on it was, puzzlingly, a dog kennel.

‘Where do you want it?’ he asked, untying bungee cords and instructing his helpers on its removal from the trailer.

‘Um…’ I said as the penny hit the ground like a Boeing 747 with both engines on fire. This was a hondehok (a dog house), not a hoenderhok (a hen house).

I was simply too embarrassed to admit my mistake, so my mommy hen and her nine babies were summarily moved into the dog kennel, where they spent several very happy seasons before being displaced by the Monster Baby – who played with them so enthusiastically that I’m sorry to admit that several died of heart failure before the rest had the sense to move next door.

Anyway, this weekend my Afrikaans failed me yet again. An Afrikaans friend who knows Yzerfontein – the small coastal town in which I keep a holiday flat for occasional escapes from the oppressive summer heat of our valley and taking the dogs to romp about in the sea – advised me, on one of our long walks, to look for the cave with the pigeons in it. ‘It’s on one of the points; it’s called Duiwelsnes,’ he said – or so I thought. (The various coastal points around Yzer are, rather bizarrely, marked with their names, somewhat like streets might be elsewhere.)

Well, if it was on a coastal point and it had ‘duiwel’ (devil) in its name, I kind of knew what I was looking for, didn’t I?

So this morning, when my daughter and I took the dogs on one of our coastal strolls, I advised her to look for Duiwelshoek (thereby compounding my error by turning the ‘nest’ into ‘corner’, but it must be said that when my Afrikaans friend told me about the pigeons I had the better part of two bottles of red wine in me, so for that small blunder I forgive myself).

We kept our eyes peeled for a coastal point that looked devilish – something sharp and rocky, perhaps where the sea smashed up onto the cliffs; maybe it got a lot of mist; perchance there was even a formation that looked like a devil’s horns?

So when my daughter stopped on the cliff path, then pointed and sighed, I realised I’d fucked up yet again. ‘Duiwenes,’ she read. Doves’ nest. (Well, really, he should have said doves, not pigeons.)

We climbed down for a look and sure enough the place was alive with pigeons. Nothing about it was in the least bit devilish.

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Audrey said...

LOL. Muriel. Just LOL. Make that ROTFL. Good to have you back.

(And Juno, Let me just say that the food blog got me through December. Forever in your debt, mwa)

Alf Witt said...

Murial...reminds me of when my mother first came to SA in 1970s knowing one Afrikaans expression "buy a donkey" (baaie dankie) ...the woman on the plane sitting next to her started rattling on in Afrikaans...and she said: "I beg your pardon I don't speak Afrikanz" and the rather pissed off woman said to her: "Ag men Arm spikking Inglish!" Are you sure you bought a dog house...might be a donkey shed?

Muriel said...

Hi Audrey and thanks, it's good to be back!
Haha, Alf! Baie dankie for sharing your story.

ali g said...

When we bought our place here in the Central Tablelands of NSW, we inherited a big old chook house so we thought beauty, now we're on the land we'll buy some chooks.
So we bought some chooks and then bought some grain to feed the chooks which brought the rats to come and visit and they helped eat the grain and also ate the eggs.
Then the king brown snakes came to eat the rats and the eggs as well. so visiting the chook yard was quite a life threatening experience.
seeing no eggs at the end of the cycle, we offered the chooks to a little old lady down the road who gratefully accepted them. when we asked her about rat & snake problems she just said 'Oh, they're no problem..if they come I just shoot them'
so thats what happened here, was just a big cycle that yielded no eggs ever. So got rid of the chooks, and the rats and snakes buggered off next door 2klms away to take up with their chooks instead
We now just buy our eggs at the supermarket and it works out so much cheaper and much less scary.

The chookyard once again stands empty ...

Muriel said...

Ali G - so you've done the chooks thing too. More trouble than they're worth, huh? And that's not even to begin to go into the diseases they carry...!

ali g said...

Worst part was when one of the chooks got snakebit and Lady Chatterley took it to the vet who was quite amazed as in his 30 years as a vet she was the first one to take him a sick chook. needless to say LC left the chook in his care and was telephoned later in the afternoon to be advised that said chook had passed on the the big henhouse in the sky...
the $60 bill next week obviously covered the funeral expenses or maybe the dinner preparations .