Monday, August 24, 2009

Funny linguistic joke falls flat. I'm sure the Bolivians would have liked it.

Even I, amateur linguist, translator and pun maker extraordinaire can have a joke fall flat. Apropos of nothing, except I was baby wrangling for the sweetest mama and baby pair today, and so I had some time to think when I wasn't swirling from side to side or doing a little dance to make the baby stop crying.

In those moments, when I was between swinging and dancing, I must have dislodged a memory, of a trip I took more than a decade ago, for what I believe was the week between finishing law school and actually graduating. Particularly, this one day, on which my ex and I decided to take a seakayaking trip out of the city of La Paz (no not THAT La Paz, the other one, Steinbeck's La Paz (on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico), not the one where you can get a dried llama fetus at the witchcraft market). So we were kayaking, both pasty and pale from too much Oregon winter, and we began our trip out to various features that we could then hop out of the boat and snorkel to.

This was before I spoke much Spanish, and our guide, a 6'2-ish hulk of a man who paddled with a grace normally reserved for professional crewers and diving herons, blathered on and on in pretty darn good English, while we paddled our two-seater kayak with short little chaotic strokes like a toddler trying to keep up with his mom who walks with normal adult strides. Paaaaaaddle, Paaaaaadle, he dipped langouriously into the water. paddlepaddlepaddlepaddle we went next to him, trying to keep up, hopelessly out of synch and I think there may have actually been holes in our paddles, we were that slow.

The guide gestured off into the distance, to a tiny blip on the horizon saying, "we'll to out to that lighthouse." "Oh, I said." And then a small, 25 watt (battery powered, of course, we were on the water) lightbulb went on above my head, and I said: (are you ready, here comes the joke)

That's FAR-O.

And the guide looked at me, bemused, and said, "it's not that far," thereby missing the entire point, and dipping his paddle splashlessly into the water.

When people want to make up words in Spanish, the rule seems to be "add an -o to the end" (similiarly, when Chileans want to make up a word in English, they like to add -ation to the end, which brings me to a story I have going up soon, but not yet, which makes fun of ugly travel-related neologisms, but more on that later.)

So, following that rule, if I want to tell you something is far, I should say faro. (Lejos is actually the word for far).

The hilarious part here, is that faro means lighthouse (like the one he was pointing to)

Get it? faro, like it's far, AND a lighthouse.

Trust me, it was kayak-capsizingly funny. Good thing seakayaks don't capsize easily. The guide failed to laugh, not even appreciating my joke. Trying to explain it just made it worse.

And so, I leave you with this picture. I'm sure that these ladies would have laughed at my far-o joke, llama fetuses and all. But then Bolivia (where that other La Paz is located) has no ocean access and it's a bit of a sore spot, so maybe they wouldn't have laughed at all.

But I know you would have.

mercado de los brujos, la paz. oooh, llama fetuses!


Bystander said...

I was just reading yesterday about a tourist who spent the night locked in the local town hall in a French town because she thought Hotel de Ville meant...well...hotel. But the best part was at the end of the article, where it said:
A similar situation in Barcelona, Spain, a few years ago saw English football fans ordering dozens of beers in a bar because it was ‘Frio’.
(I liked your joke!)

Margaret said...

Well I would have fallen out of the kayak giggling at that far-o faro! (did your kayaking partner get it at least?)
Just goes to show that humor in English is much more language oriented than it is in Spanish... (Either that or they just don't have a sense of humor!) (¡Oye! No me maten--¡estoy echando tallas nom├ís!)

Annje said...

I totally would have laughed. That's clever. Yes, the sea is a sore spot for Bolivia. I don't know if it is really true or not, but a Bolivian friend told me that they celebrate a "dia del mar"--that's so sad.

oh and chamuyation and patudation are quite common words in our house--just to be funny.

Abby said...

I too would have laughed. I had an 8 year old student who used to say "maldition" in class when he messed up. It was too cute. Plus, I coudn't correct something like that. It would be like, "No, Sebastian, actually the correct way to swear in English is...." Ha.

Sara said...

Well, I totally got your joke and it cracked me up. I'm like that too, constantly trying to crack jokes and then usually here people are like "Are you trying to make a joke? That's sooo cute."

Eileen said...

Well then, it's official, score one for all of you, and nothing for my long-armed host. Seriously, faro? that's hilarious! I think sometimes it's because they're not thinking in two languages at once like many of us are. Everything passes through both English and Spanish a lot of the time. Makes life so fun.

So thanks to all of you, my semioffical new best friends. Also, the Baja Peninsula is freaking gorgeous and horribly hot in April or May or whenever I was there. I thought I might dessicate on the spot.

Emily said...

I think you're right, they're not expecting you to make a little bilingual joke, so it doesn't register when you do. But I thought it was funny!

edj said...

Ha! I was totally cracking up, and pleased with myself for getting it, since I don't speak Spanish. But it's the same in French.