Friday, December 30, 2011

You and Your Country

People are sometimes identified by their country of origin. The question is what you call them.  In many languages, the native noun has a predicable form based on the name of the country.  However, due to the wide variety of endings on country names, it is sometimes difficult to predict how to name the person.
In English, if a country ends in a or o, the person generally ends in an.  People from Liberia and Morocco are called Liberians and Moroccans.  In some cases, the suffix ian is used, as for Argentineans and Canadians.  Ese is occasionally used as in having dinner with a Chinese and a Portuguese.
Some nationality nouns use the country as a base form and take off some letters, as in Turks, Germans, and Greeks.  There are suffixes that are used in rare cases.  Ard is only found in Spaniards, while “i’  is used for Israelis, Iraqis, and Bengalis. People from Latvia and Finland are Letts and Finns, respectively.  Some natives don’t even have a special form, using the country name as an adjective.  People from France, Ireland, and Britain are known as Frenchmen (or women), Irishmen, and Englishmen, although the latter may be called Brits.  Then, there are the Dutch, who come from the Netherlands. 
Aside from the official name of the nationality, there are nicknames, some of them derogatory and some not.  Canadians are sometimes called Canucks (I don’t know whether they like it or not) whereas an older term for Brits is Limeys, since they were the first to have the sailors eat lime juice to avoid scurvy.  To the best of my knowledge, Australians have no problems being Aussies, although New Zealanders hate being called such since they are definitely not that.
 If you don’t know what you are, check the dictionary.  Personally, I am an Israeli, American, and Frenchman with a little bit Iraqi from my previous marriage and can be found under the term ethnic salad.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holidays in the Holy Land

Reality is often quite ironic.  In the Western World, the only place where almost everybody is working on Jesus’ birthday is in the place he was born.  Throughout Europe and the United States, people will be taking this Sunday off, with only a few luckless individuals having to work.  (I have worked holidays;  Even the extra pay does not make it feel better.) Just in Israel, the birthplace of Jesus, is Sunday a regular working day, albeit with the kids off for Hanukah.  Not only that, there is no sign of snow or reindeers here, not mention, aside from a few Christian villages, any sound of Christmas carols.
In fact, the winter solstice holiday in Israel remains pleasantly banal.  People go to work, unless they work in high tech or some other industry so tied to Europe and the United States that it makes no sense for a business to remain open.  Every night until Wednesday, a candle will be lit and a few short prayers and songs sung in honor of Hanukah.  The Moslems and Druze have no holiday at this time.  So, they conduct business as usual.  The Christians will spend their holiday with their families, but it is not a very public celebration in most places. 
In fact, the most significant signs that there is any holiday at all are the omnipresent sufganiot [doughnuts], the smell of levivot [potato pancakes], and malls packed with kids and teenagers trying to spend their money as fast as they can.  They of course are quite happy to be excused from school for a week, the exact same feeling their teachers have. 
On the bright side, people in Israel are not assaulted by fat men wearing red clothing, a constant background of cheerful songs, the pangs of guilt and foot pain involved in buying gifts, and a week of too much alcohol and food, not to mention fascinating small talk.  This is almost a normal week. For us freelancers, we have two weeks of being in great demand as our colleagues in the West are generally busy socializing. 
Still, I would not protest if someone offered me an eggnog, nice and strong of course, and sang once, but only once, and in key Little Drummerboy.  Aside from that, I prefer the Israeli version of the holiday atmosphere.  It is quite possible that Jesus would feel at home with it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baseball and the English Language

Every language is shaped by the experience of its speakers.  The sea and (European) football have shaped England.  Ranching and its wilderness experience have shaped Australia.  One of the strongest influences on modern American language is sport.  While American football and basketball attract more fans per game, American baseball attracts more people per season and strongly impacts the language.
If life throws you a curveball, you have an unpleasant surprise.  A person who is called a minor leaguer does not get much respect.  If you strike you, you had no success.  Speaking of scoring, teenagers used to refer to a date’s progress by how far the boy got, i.e. a kiss was first base while the mythical homerun was generally a lie at that age.   A ballpark figure is an approximate number while a bleacher bum is an uneducated, boorish individual who is always criticizing.  If your batting average is poor, you are not successful most of the time.  A person who tries hard until the bitter (or maybe happy) end knows that It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.  A screwball is a completely strange person.   The world series is where the best play each other
So, whether you like watching baseball or not, baseball is a part of America’s language.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Rhythm of the Days

While it is true that the whole world works on a week of seven days and an official calendar of 365.25 days, it does not mean that the pace of the time is identical in all countries.  In each country, there is a time for business and time for other things.  Whether you like it or not, you have to take these patterns into account when doing business.
For example, in the good old days of Brezhnev at the time of the Soviet Union, wary consumers, if they had a choice of course, never bought anything made on a Monday, Friday, or the last week of the month.  The workers had hangovers on the first day and were hurrying to meet quota at the other times.  In Paris, it is best to take care of official business, including banking and post office, in the morning as the clerks become down-right unpleasant as the end of the work day approaches.  In Germany, the unions prevent stores from staying open late, meaning shopping is hectic between 4-6 in the afternoon and then almost shuts down completely afterwards.  In the Mediterranean basin, due to the heat, except for shops in modern, air-conditioned malls, most establishments close between two and four in the afternoon.  On the bright side, they stay open late.
Most countries in the West have a real two day weekend, except for those working in retail.  In the United States, Saturday has become a big errand day, with even banks giving into competition and opening half days on Saturday.  The term bankers’ hours no longer means short working days.  By contrast, Sunday is spent reading the especially long Sunday paper and watching football games on TV during the season for those who are football fans.  Israel has a completely different rhythm to life.  Friday is an intense half day of work.  The local joke is that Friday is a SEX day, referring to the Hebrew initials for mopping, shopping, and cooking.  However, on Friday afternoon, many people take a long nap in the afternoon.  Saturday for most people is doing things they don’t have to do, however they define it.  Some people take hikes while others go shopping (In the stores, by law at least, only non-Jews can be forced to work on Saturday, the Sabbath).  The Sabbath for most non-religious people is a busy but fun day.  On the other hand, while the rest of world is resting on Sunday, Israelis are back to work.  Monday has a different meaning in Israel than elsewhere.  Each place to its pace.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Rose is not always a rose in another language

Children throughout the world like stories and, at least in the Western world, read and see many of the same stories and cartoons.  It does not necessarily follow that that they will recognize the names of these characters, however.  Traditionally, names have experienced what translators call “localization,” meaning adjustment to the local language.  In other words, the stories are the same, but the names have been changed (to protect the innocent?).
In the world of fairy tales, many heroes are unrecognizable to other culture.  The German Hanzel and Gretel has become Ami and Tami in Hebrew.  The English Cinderella is  לכלוכית [lichluchit] in Israel, the dirty one, and золушка [zolushka]  in Russian.  Snow White is freely localized: Blanche-Neige in French,  שלגיה [Shelgia] (the snow one) in Hebrew, and белоснежный  [belosnojni] in Russian.
Popular culture also is translated.  The American comedians Laurel and Hardy were called on Israeli television השמן והרזה [hashemen veharazeh], meaning the fat one and thin one.  In the wonderful duo of Pinky and the Brain (my favorite “modern” cartoon), the French Pinky is called “Zero”, presumably due to his intelligence or lack thereof.  I question how many Americans would recognize les Pierrafeu, otherwise known as Fred and Barney.
To quote the latter, have a yabba yabba good time day.