Learning the Lingo

By Simon Fenton

Simon was born & educated near Oxford. After a career lifeguarding at nudist clubs, conducting pregnancy tests & weighing organs in a morgue, he set off for Asia for several years, staying as far off the beaten track as possible & financing himself by teaching English & acting in Bollywood movies. Upon his return to the UK, he realized he far preferred off the beaten track to city life & went back to work as a pig breeder in Vietnam for four years. Eventually, however, the call of the not particularly wild was heard, & he returned once more, living in London & Brighton. A perfect storm of events re-ignited his wanderlust, however, and he he woke up one morning and said to himself ‘goodness, I forgot to cross the Sahara’. Reader, he crossed it, landing a ‘job’ on the other side managing a lodge in Senegal. He liked it so much, he bought another ticket.  Simon currently lives in Senegal with Khady, son Gulliver, dog Toubab and Kermit the jeep. where he indulges in his three main passions: travel, writing & photography.  For more, check out his blog.  

I always struggle with languages. I’m currently getting by in French, but if people speak too fast I crumple. I was dismayed to watch a French film the other day and barely understand a word. But with my friends, who know my capabilities, we can communicate perfectly well. It was similar in Vietnam. After two years in the bush, I could hold a conversation about agriculture, building farms and lon’s. I was also proud to be able to hold a 30 minute telephone conversation.
So, it’s with an affectionate smile, and not mocking sarcasm, that I enjoy laughing at and recording various language and pronunciation errors around the world.
I’ve sang the songs of John Lemon in karaoke and played tennis with a tennis rabbit. I’ve eaten corn flaks, finger chips and fied woodles. I’ve stayed at “Foreign Tourist Paradise*” – in reality a mud hut in the middle of nowhere, whilst walking and hitch-hiking from Afghanistan to the China border in Pakistan with my brother. An English sign outside a Hanoi water irrigation equipment shop said “Erection of Water Passing Equipment.” I read about a buttock shaking pill hitting the streets of Malaysia, although never did figure that one out. Sounds fun though.
In India, I was asked if I like bottom. “Hmm, depends who it belongs to I suppose”, was the natural response. “No, do you like bottom?” The England cricket team were touring at the time and I eventually figured out they were referring to Ian Botham. Actually, I had a ticket to a match, but got caught up in a riot and chased away by the police. That’s another story.
Some of the sayings here in Senegal are amusing. Mamadou always cries “I’m coming” when he’s going. Before launching into a meal we all say “Bon attack!” or ”chop chop”. Everyday I’m asked “how is the morning?”
One of our Vietnamese staff, Miss Mai told me with a straight face that she had 32 tits. She meant teeth. She also told me she went back and forth between the farm and Hanoi like a dildo, meaning yo-yo. At a meeting, a young lady stood up and pronounced “Hello, my name is Ngyuyen Ho Ha, and as you can see through my clothes, I am Vietnamese.”
One of the funniest was the tale of the vulva in the toilet. Company boss, Ong John, and accountant, Anh Andy, came down to help on the farm at tet – Vietnamese New Year. In the evening we went to a hotel in Ninh Binh, the nearest town, 30 miles or so away, where a lad played Vietnamese pop on a yamaha keyboard and we had some beers. Life doesn’t get  much better does it?
John went to the loo, where a guy tried to grab him. John threw him against a wall and returned raging about the pervert in the loo. A few weeks later, we were driving past the hotel with Miss Mai on the long drive back to Hanoi. She said that she didn’t want to stop for the loo as she didn’t want to see the vulva. “Don’t look then” replied John. She meant “Pervert.”*Not so much an error as false advertising.

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