Trying to make sense of it all


When you quasi speak in a different language on a day-to-day basis there are words or phrases that you find yourself using a lot, often as a bridge to the next bit of vocab that you have momentarily forgotten.  For example when I lived in France I always used ‘je pense’ (I think), even though most of the time I wasn’t thinking I was just warbling away and je pense filled any embarrassing gaps when I had run out of nonsense to spout.  In Hebrew I use ‘efshar’ a lot (which literally translated means, it’s possible/is it possible?) .  Efshar the bill, efshar to change this, efshar to pass, efshar to sit, you see you can use it in all sorts of situations and being the born and raised polite Brit that I am I find it difficult to just command as most Israelis do – ‘efshar the salt?’ instead of ‘give me the salt’.

My absolute favourite word in Hebrew is stam.  It doesn’t have the best music nor a terribly interesting meaning but you can use it in so many ways and there just isn’t a word to compare it to in English.

– the book was stam (OK)

– stam stam (only joking)

– it was stam (just) not interesting

– how’s your day? stam (OK)

– why did you do that? stam (no reason)

– I stam (just) wanted to say hi

Shame there’s no word like this in English.

There are a few words I like, simply because of their music, balagan (mess) is a good one and my eldest has just introduced me to achi ahoove alye which I think means, what I love the best – go on, say it out loud, it’s a beauty.  The other new phrase he says a lot is calay caloola which I think means easy peasy – love it.  Go on, try it, calay caloola, achi ahoove alye.  Having a bilingual house means that we also have a whole set of verbs and vocab that have no meaning in either English or Hebrew and yet we all understand, then on top of that we have the enormous amount of nonsense words that 2 year olds talk plus words my Dad invented when we were children  – anyone for a pa?(bath)

After my last trip to the UK I came home armed with CDs of kids songs in English.  Having based my entire Hebrew language learning on the kid’s songs that are played on repeat in the car, I decided it was time to teach the childers  English with some sing a long songs.  Beauties like Donkey Riding and Yankee Doodle are now top requests although I am not convinced how much usable English they are learning, ‘ what’s macaroni?’, ‘its a type of pasta’, ‘so why was the feather called macaroni?’, ‘umm’.  Then there’s the part which all English parents have to deal with, ‘ why did the goose throw the old man down the stairs?’ and my personal favourite ‘what’s whipped?’, ‘what’s soundly?’ ‘so why did she whip her children soundly’.  What is it with the English nursery rhymes that they are either nonsense or downright mean?

Recently number 1 son and I have had words because of language and in particular certain words that in Israel are not offensive but in English are, his Grandmother will have a fit.  He recently started saying ‘sit’ and it didn’t take a genius to work out that what he was actually saying was shit.  The good news is he didn’t learn it from me (he’d say shit not sit if he’d learnt it from me), and as shit, bullshit and even the dreaded f word really have no meaning in Israel other than for emphasis, it’s just a matter of time before I must have the conversation again to explain that there are certain words  that ‘we’ just don’t say.  A minefield indeed and this in a country where this ad for a teenage clothing store is on every billboard and bus stop.  tnt ad

 My childers will be potty mouthed urchins in English and as 50% of the time I don’t understand them in Hebrew they could well be the same in Hebrew.  Ah, the trials of an expat mother.


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