When Mild is Spicy and Now is Later
You’ve been there. Your eyes run almost as fast as your nose. Your tongue sticks out Gene Simmons style begging for water like you’ve been rescued from the desert. At some point you may begin to rock back and forth or curl into a ball. You might not realize how you look at the time, but your buddies will be sure to imitate it for years to come once you’re back home. Sometime after the burning (and sobbing) has subsided you laugh, or try to laugh, at yourself and remember you can’t handle the spicy curry in India.
Welcome to looking like an idiot.
It’s a part of travelling that’s as inevitable as being seated next to a loud snorer on the plane. It happens. And the quicker you accept that the quicker you can move on and respect that ‘spicy’ in Boston is different from ‘spicy’ in Mumbai.
Travel miscommunication doesn’t always come in the form of different languages. It stems from nuances as often as it stems from trying to read a different alphabet. And when you’re the one travelling into the unknown, it’s most likely you who will end up looking like an idiot.
One of the most amusing and frustrating aspects of plopping yourself into the middle of a foreign place is learning how words – the same words you use at home – can come in many different shapes and sizes. Take the word ‘now.’ In the US it means ‘immediately,’ ‘at this moment’. But go to South Africa. Even before you’ve left the airport you’ll hear someone mention ‘now.’ They’ll find your lost baggage now. Your cab will be here now.
Here’s a tip: find an open chair and settle in.
This is African ‘now’ they’re talking about, which means anything from ‘when I get around to it’ to ‘probably sometime next year.’ It can even mean the past, as in ‘I saw your cab now.’ Again this may mean your cab driver was seen a few minutes ago, or that he came and left (without you) days ago.
South Africans understand that the ambiguity of their ‘now’ can be confusing. So, helpfully, they’ve added ‘now now’ and ‘just now’ to the local slang. A double ‘now’!? Imagine how excited Americans and Germans are to hear that things can be done twice as fast as regular ‘now’! Oh, but how quickly you forget where you are, traveller! TIA, remember?
Sure ‘now now’ holds a little more weight than regular old ‘now’ and ‘just now’ is the African version of, ‘in just a moment.’ But both still mean it might happen tomorrow or Wednesday instead of next year March. You can try and fight it. Go ahead, run to the nearest help desk and insist that this service is unacceptable. Go be the obnoxious tourist yelling, ‘Now or just now or now now? Do it now now now!”
But in the end things will still happen in their own time and you’ll be left looking like an idiot.
So why not rather accept that things are different when you’re away from home? Why not let half the fun of travelling come from learning when mild is spicy and now is later?