At The End Of The Day, It’s All Semantics

, , , , , | Learning | August 23, 2019

While I was doing my bachelor’s in linguistics, I also took a Norwegian practical writing course. It aimed to teach an academic approach on how to write, critique, and understand various genres of text. I was in it to improve my article writing proficiency.

We usually worked in groups in this course, and one of the assignments was writing and critiquing poetry. Our teacher was a major experimental poetry nerd, so we wrote various more or less serious poems without structure as jokes, but every member of our group wrote poems. I figured we would be fine. 

Then came the day when we were to turn in our poems, and I found out that I was the only one in our group that had actually finished any poems that I was willing to turn in. I was too flustered to be angry, so I just went into problem-solving mode. I grabbed the poems I felt done with, and I was one short to complete the assignment. While the teacher was going around getting the poems for other groups I was frantically going through my rucksack to see if I had anything. I found a page from a Semantics paper I had done. For non-linguists, that’s word-math. It’s strange lambda transformations, arrows, and brackets. It was one simple sentence, “John kicks the ball,” written five or six times in increasingly more obfuscated ways with various symbols scribbled around. “F*** it,” I thought, added it to the pile, and turned it in.

The week after, we were going through our poems in class, and the lecturer was beaming. One of the poems was just fantastic! It had broken with all convention while using simple language and yet conveyed so much meaning, life, and action. It was one of the best poems she had seen and was written by one of us. And then she held up the page from my Semantics paper and wanted to know who the poet was.

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Their Time For Wi-Fi Has Come

, , | Right | August 13, 2019

(I’m working as customer support for an ISP company. Some customers know more than others, but this tops the whole thing.)

Me: “Okay. I’m going to help you connect your computer to the Wi-Fi. If you take a look in the lower corner to the right, you’ll find five bars that indicate if you’re connected or not.”

Customer: “I can’t find it.”

Me: “Hmm, do you see a clock in the right corner?”

Customer: “No, not at all, but I can see something that tells me the time.”

(After twenty minutes of struggle, I actually managed to connect the customer’s computer to the Wi-Fi.)

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Their Brain Is Fully Cashed Out

, , , | Right | August 7, 2019

(I work at the airport where I give the tax back to tourists. They apply if they buy souvenirs, clothing, etc. I always ask if they want the money back in Norwegian kroner in cash, or back to a card. This customer is from the United States.)

Me: “All right, do you want the money back to your debit or credit card, or would you like the money back in Norwegian kroner in cash?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Um… Norwegian cash or back to a credit card?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Card or cash?”

Customer: “Yes.”

(She’s obviously not listening to me, and since I can’t give her money back to the card without sliding it, I decide to give her cash as there’s a line and I don’t have time to wait for her forever.)

Customer: “I wanted this back to the credit card!”

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Can Beer-ly Understand You

, , | Right | August 5, 2019

(I’m a customer in the small, local neighbourhood store on a Saturday evening. A person walks straight up to my face while I’m browsing the snack shelves and speaks in heavily French-accented English. Norwegian government has banned selling of alcohol after 8:00 pm on weekdays and 6:00 pm on Saturdays.)

Customer: “Beer?”

(Bemused, I blink a bit and answer somewhat hesitantly.)

Me: “Okay?”

Customer: “I want to buy beer. Where is it?”

(I point to the far wall where the coolers are.)

Me: “It’s over there. But since it’s after 6:00 pm, you won’t be allowed to buy any.”

Customer: “But I want to buy beer!”

Me: “Yes, but the cooler has been locked, and they won’t sell it to you. I’m sorry.”

(He steps further into my comfort zone and I can even smell his breath.)

Customer: “Please! Only one beer! Please.”

Me: “I’m sorry, but that’s the rules. I can’t do anything about it.”

Customer: “No, just one beer. Please!”

Me: “It’s the law. It’s after 6:00 pm, and the coolers are locked.” 

Customer: “Why?”

Me: “Because the government has decided so. It’s been like that for many years.”

Customer: “But just one beer. Please!”

Me: “I’m not the one who decides that. I’m really sorry, but you can’t buy any beer.” 

(He hangs his head dejectedly and turns to his friend who’s been standing silent in the background. They speak rapidly in French before turning back to me again. However, before he can continue begging, I raise my hands up to sort of ward him off.)

Me: “There is nothing I can do. I’m sorry, but that is the truth.” 

(He exchanges some words with his friend again, and they disappear around the aisle. Grabbing the things I want to buy, I get in line at the cashier. The same person comes up behind me and all but leans over my back and shoulder — I’m 5’4″ and he’s easily 6″ — to speak to the woman who’s working there, and ends up doing an almost complete rehearsal of the previous conversation with me. Having been told a simple “no” over and over again, he and his friend finally exit the store without further trouble. The cashier and I look at each other.)

Cashier: “I wonder if he really thought begging was going to get him anywhere, or if his English wasn’t good enough to really understand it.”

Me: “Who knows, but I have a feeling every store from here and down to the center of the city will be getting in on the show, as well.”

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That Old Hatshepsut, Always Bringing People Together

, , , , , | Friendly | July 20, 2019

My husband and I were visiting Oslo, and we went to the National Museum. We are American, and we were speaking English between us. My Norwegian was enough to get by and be polite.

At the time we were there, there was a special traveling Egyptian exhibit. It was only a largish room, and I read faster than my husband, so I was hanging around by a wall-sized mural of Hatshepsut’s tomb. Suddenly, an elderly lady approached me, put her arm through mine, and started telling me how her father excavated the tomb, how much fun she had playing there, and how slippery the ramp was when it rained. When she was done, I thanked her for sharing with me, and she patted my arm and wandered off.

It doesn’t sound like a story, until you take into account that she was speaking German, which I do speak but for obvious reasons hadn’t been. I have no idea why she thought I’d understand her.

I never checked on her story to see if it matched up. The whole bizarre story might be better than the truth.

 

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