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#31 Using Words in Other Languages

March 7, 2011

One of the few things that Expat Aid Workers love more than having a deep, nuanced and specific understanding of many local cultures, is being able to demonstrate (show, don’t tell)  to others that they have a deep, nuanced and specific understanding of many local cultures. And there are few things that get this across as effectively as using words in other languages.

Many will confuse “using words in other languages” with “speaking another language.” But these two things are not at all the same. Speaking another language is a great skill to have if you’re tied down to one place. Speaking another language can make it easier to “go native. ” Phraseology in another language can certainly help those Expat Aid Workers who like to explain local culture to locals. It can also make those who dress like locals (perhaps in an attempt to blend in) or who make a point of not seeing other foreigners more convincing.

But using words in a variety of other languages helps to show that you have been around. Peppering your speech, skype chats, Facebook updates with words in other languages lends that je ne sais quoi of a true global nomad. “Accidentally” murmuring phrases in a random language during sex  (“I just don’t know how to express that in English….”) helps you play up the mysterious, nomadic part of your persona. Using words in other languages communicates that you have a deep, phuc tap personality. You have spent so much of your life as a mzungu or bule that very little can faze you.

Sheesha? …Narghileh?

Being force-fed cheese that smells like socks somewhere in the high-desert? No problem. It’s all yokshi for you, Спасибо very much. You maligayang pagdating diversity and new cultural experiences with open arms and an open mind, yet you feel… oh, how to say it? Well, grieng jai really expresses best how you feel about imposing your own world view on others. And Expat Aid Workers who have really been around (and who really have that nuanced understanding of many diverse cultures) can rack up loads of field cred by explicating to newbies the subtle differences between huu tieu and kwoi teiow (is there even a difference..?), or arguing in a vociferous-yet-good-natured way with each other about the differences between, say, sheesha and narghile.

A common variation of this theme is to “translate” words in other languages back into clever English. Instead of the exceedingly mundane “masturbation”, for example, you can say “flying the kite”, “polishing the carrot”, or “tickling the butterfly.” These kinds of obviously cross-cultural references, tactically inserted into everyday conversation are sure to make the point that your breadth and depth of worldly understanding surpasses that of most newbies and certainly that of non-insiders, but doesn’t demean them by using foreign words that they must either ask the meaning of or pretend to understand.

We could go on, but halas – you get the point? Si? Bueno

17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 6:22 am


  2. Buja Baby permalink
    March 7, 2011 7:44 am

    Ni kweli sana!

  3. Katherine permalink
    March 7, 2011 7:47 am

    I’ve always wondered if this NGO has thought about their name:

    Then again, maybe they are an HRI affiliate.

  4. c-sez permalink
    March 7, 2011 11:42 am

    em nau, wantok!

  5. March 7, 2011 2:03 pm


  6. George D permalink
    March 7, 2011 5:01 pm

    Seperti banyak!

  7. March 7, 2011 9:38 pm

    Khub bhalo post!

  8. March 8, 2011 3:42 am

    OMG! if I had a penny…. one of my best (and most annoying) anecdotes is when my brother came to visit me in Cambodia (where I had resided for three years, worked, developed courses with cambodian women and given birth to a child), and had to put up with my sis in law (american, annoying, had spent a full 4 weeks in the country) going on about the local culture, how people thought she was local cause she had the long dark hair extensions (and the outfits no cambodian woman other than a prostitute would wear) and “lived” with a real cambodian (who had been raised in the US and had just moved back)…..

    or the guy who came for a summer and said it was hard until he learned to speak khamer … in three weeks, right

    drives me nuts!

  9. Julia permalink
    March 9, 2011 5:39 pm

    Walla, habibi.

    Cheers, tzecomo.

  10. Zayina permalink
    March 10, 2011 4:35 am

    Angelina, nice upmanship there. ;) But I agree with you, I don’t know which is worse: those who just spent a month or two travelling in the SouthEastAsia/Peru-Mexico/Kenya-Zanzibar (or some other trendy cool country people travel to show off their bravery to leave the Western comforts and explore the great unknown) for the first time, come back to their home countries and think they know absolutely everything…. or the long-term expats who raise their noses and snort when they listen to the former blabbering on, and then somehow insert their grander ‘experience’ into the conversation with the occasional ‘safi sana’ or ‘bagus’… subtle, yet noticable. :P

    I still remember this really annoying backpacker in India, he’d been there a few weeks or so travelling alone, which is fine, but when he, a Wessie (Westerner) meets another Wessie, why oh why does he have to WAGGLE his head and repeat ‘Tikay, tikay’ like locals!! And when asked why he does it, of course he says… ‘oh! but I don’t even notice it anymore, it’s become so NATURAL!’…. in a couple of weeks, yeah, right…

    …or a guy I know telling me how he “ate with the villagers in their authentic (!) huts after having TREKKED through a thick jungle OFF THE BEATEN TRACK”… and it turned out this had been in Bali’s one of the most popular hangout spots on the beach, he had only walked from one beach to another one very close and spent maybe 5min in a jungle, following some tourist-catering Indonesian beach boys to their homes as ‘special guests’… (sound familiar?) I did not even care insert any of my fancy Bahasa Indonesian phrases into the conversation to show off my superiority, I was simply SO flabbergasted and bored!

    I can see why people wish to behave in the above manner, and somehow I can even relate to the naive pride a beginning traveller feels, but still… even though I usually don’t mind and am quite lax about this, sometimes it just gets so over-the-top and annoying.

    So yes, granted: in the end the newbie, and (especially) intermediate backpackers are way worse than one-uping long-term expats. :D Anyone agree with me?

    (sorry the long rant, but it’s nice to share with peers!)

  11. March 15, 2011 2:58 pm

    ё-моё, че за шняга?

  12. June 23, 2011 3:32 pm

    That’s so sira ulo! Your ina must be a real puta to fall for that!

  13. ckombo permalink
    November 20, 2012 9:46 am



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