What do the words Easy, Nothing, Deer, Water, Ace, and Snail have in common? Nothing obvious, except that they’re all English… oh, and they’re also ‘names’ that Chinese students of mine over the years have chosen for themselves. Alongside the likes of Amy, Maggie, and Peter, there’s Grabby, Blistah, YoYo, Sonic, and Superdodo (no misprint), along with Vavina, who insisted vigorously that ‘Vienda’ was the correct pronunciation of her name. You can let a ‘name’ like Key pass, but I had to draw the line at Freak, who I strongly advised to choose another name. And the less said about Doggie, the better…
It’s a big English speaking world out there, with varying degrees of success. I remember being completely flummoxed by the English of a chap from the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, yet having no trouble with the beautiful fluency in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. In Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, their level even lets them be cheeky with English: a sign on Lebowski Bar announces that ‘Patio opens when the temperature exceeds a steaming 5 (degrees) Celsius’. Alongside street names like Köllunarklettsvegur and volcanoes called Eyjafyallajökull, those Icelanders are surprisingly lucid.
Translations can be poetic. An Amsterdam menu advertises hot drinks ‘met slagroom’ – ‘with cream’, and while I don’t generally take slag with my coffee, it’s comforting to realise that that’s probably not what I’m going to get. ‘Cafe sa šlagom’ in various Balkan territories is, likewise, coffee with a generous portion of whipped cream. The name rolls off the tongue after a few tries, and don’t be scared… the coffee goes down a dream – just delicious.
Stumbling upon English can be quite the experience. You can be entertained in Albania’s capital, Tirana:
… somewhat taken aback in Barcelona:
… and a little confused in the charming, cozy, generally very English-friendly Latvian capital, Riga:
But let’s leave the last word to the Chinese, and Chinglish – Chinese English – a frequently hilarious law unto itself, including but not limited to:
• the overdone
• the got-it-right-eventually
• the we-kinda-get-it-but-still-no
• and the just-let-it-go-already
I’m counting on the YoYos, Grabbys, and Superdodos of the world to sort it all out.