Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to unintentionally offend, insult and surprise in Swahili: Lesson #3

Right, so the lessons continue and while I am progressing (most of my basic conversations are now completely in Swahili), we still have the occasion hiccup, like...

  • Further to proposing to people instead of explaining that I understand them, I recently learnt that I've also very possibly been telling them that I am in fact, drunk. "Nimeelewa", I understand. "Nimelewa", I am drunk. At least it explains why I've been making friends so easily with locals in our neighbourhood.
  • I quickly figured out that "sitaki" means "I don't want" something. Which is a line I find myself saying often to overzealous street vendors and market sellers. I don't want what you're shoving under my nose, thank you very much. But... I recently learnt that you're actually supposed to say that you "don't need it"... "ninahitaji", it's politer and more gentle rejection. Apparently the connotation for "sitaki" is a lot more direct, and more usually used on a night out when that sleazy guy at the bar won't leave you alone. Closer to, "you sexually repulse me and I cannot stand to be in your presence."
  • Meals are quite a mouthful in Swahili. Lunch is "chakula cha mchana" (food of the afternoon), and supper is "chakula cha usiku" (food of the night). But breakfast is "chai" (morning tea), not "chakula cha asubuhi" (food of the morning), as I presumed. Chakula cha asubuhi, it turns out means something quite different... Sex. Early morning sex. When I told my Swahili teacher the other day that I have breakfast-sex with my boyfriend every morning, I think she did well to keep a relatively straight face.  
So in short, I've either been inadvertently proposing, randomly telling people I am drunk, informing them of my sexual preference in the morning or (with a polite smile) telling them to fuck off. 

I think it says a lot for the friendly and hospitable nature of Tanzanians that I haven't received a more agressive response. Yet.