#23 Bad English
There are few things that give Expat Aid Workers more joy than bad English. (And, no, we’re not talking about some lame band from the 80’s.)
Being asked, “where are you come?”, while walking down a Phnom Penh side-street is not only chuckle-worthy at the time, but will also provide the basic fodder for innumerable inebriated one-upping episodes down the road. Similarly, quoting the label on the back of a “Three Coins Lager” bottle (“… a wholesome lubricant for social intercourse.”) is almost always a crowd-pleaser. And for those capable, saying almost anything at all in a convincing Indian or Nigerian accent is a sure way to take it to the next level at the next Expat Aid Worker gathering.
It’s a good idea to maintain a collection of photographs of examples of bad English from around the world, too. In addition to helping establish field cred, driving home the fact that you’re a nomad, and making your Facebook page a lot cooler, it’s just plain funny. There will almost certainly come a dark day when you’ll want to self-soothe your melancholy by re-watching that YouTube clip of someone singing “Highway to Hell” in a Thai accent.
Unintentionally ironic and/or enigmatic English is just as good. The little boy in Conakry with a “Dixie Chicks” cap, “Protect the Monkey” emblazoned on the side a Port-au-Prince tap-tap, or the “THIS is why I’m HOT” T-shirt being worn by a wrinkled old woman Cebu City are all equally photo and retell-over-beers worthy.
Finally, it is important that the Expat Aid Worker find humor in other people’s failed attempts to communicate well in English, but remain totally serious about her/his equally failing attempts to speak their language. Yes, you want directions to the national museum, and no, you don’t want to buy a gold-plated goat dropping. You know what you mean. Some people just lack the ability to infer meaning from context…