I love language. I love learning new languages, and I love trying out what I know. In many ways, this is a good thing. It means that I can pick up the local dialect relatively quickly.
It also means I say lots of embarrassing things.
For example, when I lived in Costa Rica and misspoke when bartering with a street vendor. He was selling hand-carved knives that were clearly his pride and joy. Instead of asking if they were made out of wood (madera), I accidentally inquired as to whether they were made out of shit (mierda).
My bad, Mr. Costa Rican vendor man.
I’ve probably said a lot of equally embarrassing things in Indonesian, but 1) I don’t know enough Bahasa to realize it, and 2) Asian culture so values saving face that no one tells me.
Yesterday, though, I knew enough to realize my mistake.
Now, before I start in on this short story, you must understand how I feel about cockroaches. I HATE THEM. I can deal with snakes. I have no problem with spiders. I’ve ridden a crocodile and swum with sharks.
But I don’t do cockroaches.
I know this might seem a bit pathetic, but they’re the worst. They’re fast and they crunch if you try to kill them. Which is disgusting.
So I walk into my classroom during our break, and there’s a gigantic cockroach sitting underneath my desk. We’re talking, like, two inches long.
I run out into the hallway in search of a savior. A student refuses me, the secretary is on the phone. Then, I spot my favorite janitor at the end of the hallway, standing there like some knight in shining armor.
Only problem: upset self doesn’t mix so well with the whole language barrier thing.
So I sprint toward the man, doing my best to communicate my thoughts in Indonesian.
“Pak, saya ada cockroach di kelas saya!”*
“Sir, I have a cockroach in my room!”
“Anda bisa datang dan mati!?”
“Can you come and …
Yup, that’s right. I asked the janitor to come to my room and die.
Thankfully, he’s a dealing-with-me-and-my-struggling-Bahasa genius, and he came, killed, and removed the cockroach for me.
*Please note that this is most likely no where NEAR the correct way to say this. But I do my best and usually get the idea across okay 🙂