Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Walking against the wind

Love Chunks and Sapphire often like to laugh at my tendency to use charades and sound effects in my conversations.

"For a writer, you rely a hell of a lot on acting out particular fart noises."

"Mum, did you really have to make that face to the post man?"

They claim that my whole family has this tendency and when we get together for big celebrations, there's a lot of 'Brrrrrrring' and 'Ppppphphtttttt' and 'Wockita whockita whockitas' being thrown into the mix. We understand each other completely and, if anything, this Read Family proclivity has served me pretty well as a non-French speaker (or comprehender) in la Suisse.

A few weeks back I was in the amusingly named XXX Sports Shop purchasing no, not porn, but three sets of cycling socks for LC. At the checkout, I'm always relieved when a 'Bonjour' whilst handing over my credit card is all the language skills I need.

The lady smiled at me and did her swiping thing when a huge wave of putrescent PONG swept us over both, the heat and strength making us both sway on our feet a little.

Her nostrils twitched slightly and all of a sudden she broke off eye contact with me, our shared smile now gone.

She thought that I had popped out a burst of flatulence so turgid that the sale posters were flapping up and down in the breeze. Now, it's a fair assumption that I do emit my share, but I'm always prepared to own up to them. But when it's not mine I'm far less willing to have it assigned to me. Besides, if I'd pushed out something this gaseous I'd be straight off to buy a new pair of pants before my appointment with the proctologist....

I was in a bind. The words for 'fart' and 'that old man who walked in behind me who is now browsing in the fishing gear section is the culprit' were way beyond me.

So I did what any member of the Read family would do and used my body and my voice to get my message across. Reaching to tap her arm, I said in French, "Non moi--------" and waved the air near my arse before pointing dramatically north, "------Il!"

Translation: No me...... HE!

I hopped on one leg, pinched my nose shut and violently shook my head. "Non Moi!"

"NO ME!"

She laughed, rolled her eyes at the Flatulent old Fart now holding up some hiking boots and bid me farewell. My reputation was safe.

But other occasions have also seen me rely on anything other than acceptable, clearly spoken words. Love Chunks works in a UN organisation where the official language is English, so most things are professionally-run, understood by everyone participating and no crossed wires occur.

Out in the real world, with drivers of mini-tractors full of compost who want you off the footpath, plumbers who apologise for being five minutes late and coffee shop ladies who detest all of their customers, it's more of a challenge to communicate.

Once again I found myself pointing to my own bottom, frantically fanning my hands around it in pantomimed disgust and shaking my head "NO" in order to get the concierge to understand that the lingering, dead-squirrel odour in Sapphire's unused bidet was not of our making.

I later discovered that grotesquely rubbing my stomach and screwing up my face before pointing to Milly and wrinkling up my nose was a good way to explain to the old lady who wanted to pat her that my dog had just run through the park and was covered in mud. "Orange, Madame, Orange," I said, pointing to a stripe on my top. "Milly is usually orange in colour and not the chocolate brown you see before you. Pat at your peril," my actions said.

Guillaime, our upstairs neighbour, joined me in the lift. With my hands forming a rectangular shape and my mouth emitting 'brrm brrrm' noises, he was made aware that we have a spare car parking space to rent. He nodded politely in that 'I don't know what the hell she's doing, but I'll let her talk so that I don't have to admit anything' kind of way before almost pushing me out when the doors opened to my floor.

At the chemist, I pointed to my shoulder and put on what I thought was a Meryl Streep-worthy sad face. "Ow," I groaned, my bottom lip folded over almost to the ground. "Chaud?"

"Hot?" Rubbing my shoulder, I continued to say, "Chaud?" and put on a smile to show that it would help me recover. Ten minutes later, I had a tube of Deutschland Deep Heat in my hands; exhausted after ten minutes of acting and not helped by the mother and toddler who wanted to 'help' the pharmacist guess my ailment.

Game show hostesses' gracious arm movements are another big help for this non-French speaker. "Yes, you can take the last tub of Quark," I say in English, sweeping my arm across the refrigerated cabinet in a 'Look at all these wonderful prizes' gesture of awe and generosity. The woman does, snatching it up and wheeling off before she has to thank the lunatic who let her.

Still, at the end of the day, I mostly end up completing my list of chores, buying the food we need and arriving home in one piece. Not, however, without a least one snigger.

Today's was at LaCoste; the over-priced polo tops with crocodiles on the pockets. A huge sign was in the window:

Boy oh boy, who knew that they'd expanded their range that far?

* SALE MENS BAGS. Nowhere near as amusing to the locals who saw me bent over laughing.


Elisabeth said...

I'm a gesticulator and a gesturer too, Kath, but not half so expressive as you, from what you say here. I think I'd blush if I had to deny a fart, but my sister in law tells the story of how she once in a crowded lift, herself the guilty one, tried to divert attention away from herself by simply asking, 'Who farted?' It works every time she reckons. No one suspects her.

Thanks, Kath.

Kath Lockett said...

Your sister is brilliant, Elisabeth. I'll have to try that tactic.... can't do it at home though because LC and Sapphire, um, 'recognise' my er, 'efforts' ....!

Andrew said...

Amusing, but it must wear you down at times. It does me in a foreign country.

Kath Lockett said...

It did at first, Andrew, but I've since decided to find the funny side instead of automatically switching to 'frustrated foreigner' mode and have been surprised at how well I can get by.

The Elephant's Child said...

I so understand this. MS means that words escape me from time to time (quite often dammit). The smaller portion is becoming adept at charades but it is sooooo much harder on the phone. I may have to practise sound effects. Thank you - brilliant as always.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks EC - I never knew that being honest about my propensity to fart would end up with you describing it as 'brilliant' ! I'm not complaining, mind...

River said...

That picture is classic funny!
The French and Italians along with the Spanish and Mexicans are all well known for gesticulating while talking. In my years at one shoe factory, (I worked at two), there were a couple of Italians who got so carried away with conversing it was dangerous to sit near them at lunch in case you collected a black eye accidentally.
I myself find hand gestures incredibly helpful at the checkout when helping non-English speaking shoppers. Indicating the keypad and dit-dit-ditting with the other hand, then indicating signing your name to ask if they use a PIN or if they sign the slip whenusing a credit card, for instance. I say the words at the smae time so they might remember for next time. I did the same thing when in the city last year at one of those two dollar shops, the customer didn't understand the checkout girl who simply kept repeating in a bored tone "Pin or sign?" I was astounded that she didn't even try to help the customer understand.

diane b said...

I love coming to your blog for a giggle. I can identify with this post except the language was swiss german. I learnt to always ask does anyone speak English and more often than not someone in the shop did.The French speakers are more reluctant to speak English, they believe their language should have become the world language not English. My embarrassing fart moment(s) in the super market is when Bill drops one and walks off while I'm still choosing from the shelf. The next person to walk past gives me the look. I'm learning to take off with him so I don't look like the guilty party.

drb said...

I always wonder where did you and Rob get your sound effects from?
I don't see/hear your parents or Dave doing it at all.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Your comment over at The Elephant's Child made me laugh out loud, so I came over to visit. Your blog is hilarious, so I must follow.

nuttynoton said...

Hilarious as usual, there is one thing you can say shopping in Switzerland is never boring!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Mrs PM gesticulates a lot.

I wonder - is it a female thing?

I have managed to cope in places like Russia and China using sign language and badly pronounced phrases from a phrase book - and been laughed at (rather than doing the laughing myself).

Never had to mime a fart though, Kath.




Kath Lockett said...

River, you'd be the Queen of the check out chicks if you lived in Geneva. Your willingness to help, understand and make life easier would attract several film crews, both local newspapers and a crowd of dazzled, surprised and admiring onlookers.

dianeb, I love Bill! I dare you next time to yell out REALLY LOUDLY - "BILL, NEXT TIME, TAKE SOMETHING FOR THAT!"

drb, little brother Dave does it all the time..... he's particularly good at whistling sound effects.

Thanks so much Melissa, you've just made my day.

PlasMan, my brothers are gesticulators and sound effects merchants too and, believe me, with your travels, one day you'll find yourself miming a fart. Trust me.

Nutty, you're right. It isn't boring - there's always something that starts off as highly embarrassing or confusing that gets turned around to a good laugh.

JahTeh said...

I can't give directions in a taxi without hand signs otherwise we're turning right when it should be left.

As for the flatulance, my sister, when she first got a boarder, would run out the door and up to the corner shop to let it all go.

Ann O'Dyne said...

I did not get past
"plumbers apologise for being 5 minutes late" ... did you mean DAYS?
like in Australia?
and certainly with no apology?

I know the french for farter - Le Petomane was famous in the 19thC

Kath Lockett said...

I have to admit, Jah Teh, that outside my nearest and dearest being unwilling witnesses to my 'freedoms', I too would dash out the door if boarders or fancy guests were there.

Five minutes, Ms O'Dyne. In the land of watches and last week's debate (still not formally resolved) on whether to move time forward ONE SECOND, being on time is essential.

Cathy said...

Although I really enjoyed this post, as usual, I'm leaving a comment entirely due to the fact that the WV is 'eflatiam' - just sounds so wonderfully apt, somehow!

Kath Lockett said...

I love it, Cathy - 'Eflatiam - puffing up one's cheeks in order to produce a sound effect in place of a spoken word.'

Red Nomad OZ said...

Hahaha! This gem of a gesture collection calls for its own reality TV show!!!

Anonymous said...

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I'll certainly be back.
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