When you’re living in a country where you don’t really speak the language, there are going to be challenges. You will buy the wrong thing at the grocery store. And you will realize it was the wrong thing after you’re home or after you’ve cooked… ew. It’s much easier to get along with the invention of translation apps and websites. Some phrases, however, just don’t translate. One of those phrases is “fly swatter”.
I’d looked through the store in all of the likeliest places. I looked a second time. My eyes roved the shelves like a hunter on the first day of the season. My shoulders drooped, no luck. I would have to ask for help. I pulled out my phone and pulled up the translation web site I most often use. Hopefully, I typed in “fly swatter”, hit ‘translate’, and approached the guy who was stocking shelves. Pro tip: stocking shelves is monotonous and people assigned this task are generally eager to help with anything that is not ‘putting crap on shelves’.
I asked if he spoke English in my best local-speak. “No”, he answered. I took a steadying breath and asked in local speak, “Do you have…” and then showed him the words on my phone. He read, wrinkled his eyebrows, and then shook his head at me. I asked if he understood and he shook his head again. Now, at this point in the encounter, you have a choice. You can either thank them and walk away without your fly swatter OR you double down and communicate the best way you can. I’ve been at this awhile now, living in places where my mastery of the language is not masterful. Far from it. Sometimes, you just have to go for it and lay your dignity down in the dust. Pantomime and sound effects work when words fail.
My fingertip became a fly. I made buzzing sounds. My finger moved in seemingly aimless circles before landing on a shelf. Then, I took a step back to show that the perspective changed. I had my imaginary fly swatter and swung it fast onto my imaginary fly perched on the shelf. Finally, I looked back at my partner who returned a blank stare. Again with the head shake.
We went looking for someone else, who hopefully had a better grasp of English or charades. His coworker had no better understanding of English. I returned to my phone adding the words “fly” and “fly stick”. Those translations weren’t any help either. I know what you’re thinking… that it was translating the verb and not the noun. But, I’m telling you the translations looked like nouns to me.
Anywho, I’m back to pantomiming again. I really sell it this time. I make louder buzzing, more aimless circles, a big pause for dramatic effect, my swing was grand, and for my finale a big ‘ole ‘SPLAT’. Onomatopoeia works people. The new fellow started nodding excitedly, laughing, and typing in his phone to translate for me. I find myself laughing, too. It may not be elegant, but I had successfully communicated. What did he have to tell me in return? The translation read: “Only sell for the summer”. In other words, it’s November and they don’t have fly swatters this time of year. Sigh.
My parting words of wisdom on the subject: If you have to act out the phrase “fly swatter”, make sure you sell the ‘splat’.