“Getting Englished” is the embarassing and pride-destroying occurance when an English speaker, in a country where the primary language is something different, attempts to communicate in said primary language and is responded to in English. Sometimes this is okay. For example, when I start speaking my bad Portuguese to someone in the market and they cut me off with “I´m Zimbabwean, I don´t speak Portuguese.” Whoops. My mistake.
Then there´s the other type of Getting Englished. The BAD kind. When I go to the market and I say, “Quanto custa banana?” How much are bananas. Not so difficult. And the unruly adolescent boy/sassy teenage girl/confused-looking older woman/whoever replies, “teenti.” Me: “Diga?” (say again). Them: “Teenti.” Me: “Vinte?” (Twenty. Is that what they are trying to tell me??). Them (visibly annoyed: “TEENTI!!” I sigh and hand over the 20 meticais. I just Got Englished. And I am not happy about it.
Living in a tourist community with lots of people passing through who brazenly start speaking English to everyone without even pausing to consider that that isn´t their language, means I get Englished a lot. On one hand, it is EXTREMELY frustrating. I have worked hard to be able to communicate sufficiently in Portuguese and when people don´t let me, just assuming I am a South African tourist, it really pisses me off. Especially when the people talking to me can´t even communicate in English and are just confusing everyone (read: me) instead of letting me speak a few sentences of THEIR language. Which I do speak, mind you. Plus, its the whole Peace Corps thing: I´m supposed to be proficient in the language, integrated into the community, not constantly mistaken for an ignorant turista just passing through, etc. Ouch.
But on the other hand, how dare I get upset for people trying to speak English to me? If I´m white and in Mozambique, 99% says I am a native English speaker. Plus, I initially speak Portuguese to every African person I interact with–but there are South African and Zimbabwean communities here. Does that not make me just as “racist” in my linguistic assumptions, if not more so?
Also, there is little to no job market here outside of the tourist industry. There are a lot of new lodges, hotels, restaurants, and the like popping up and to get employed, one will need some English skills to cater to the primarily South African clientele. Should I not be doing all I can to encourage the English speaking? Especially for a country with few jobs and the fact that English opens up an incredible array of options compared to one who does not speak it? How dare I let my stupid pride that wants everyone to speak Portuguese to me get in the way of encouraging this development? I won´t use my Portuguese that often after December of this year. If I can help strengthen someone´s English here, they could benefit for a lifetime.
I am starting English class at work with my colleagues–people who I already know and like–with my roommate, and I hope this will change my attitude throughout the last several months of my service. I spent time fighting to get people in the office to speak Portuguese to me, and now I´m switching back to English with anyone who wants to learn. It is hard for my ego, especially recognizing that I am still not fluent in Portuguese despite my expectations for myself, but I also recognize that English skills are one thing I CAN contribute here.
There are still the annoyances though. Especially the people who speak English and think that they are the smartest and most entitled people ever because of it. There was one such man sitting behind me on my last bus ride to Maputo, an Indian/Mozambican (We´ll call him Mr. Big Shot) who was conversing with the man next to him, who I believe was South African–he didn´t speak Portuguese. (It is also important to note, that for most Mozambicans, South Africans and Zimbabweans, English is not their best language, usually far from it–dialects and local languages are primarily spoken outside of the schools.) Anyway, he was talking to Mr. Big Shot English Speaker in slightly broken english, and was talking about rain (it had rained heavily the previous day). He pronounced it with a lilt, almost like “raeyn,” but I understood instantly. Mr. Big Shot didn´t he asked him to repeat several times. “Raeyn.” “What are you saying?” “Raeyn.” Eventually his neighboor became frustrated and said, “falling water.” To which Mr. Big Shot replied, “Oh. Rain?” The man replied yes. So Mr. Big Shot had the nerve to say, “Oh, you said you spoke English, but you don´t speak very well.” And at that point I had the nerve to turn around and say, “Well Mr. Big Shot, you say you understand English, but you don´t understand it very well.”
Okay I didn´t actually have the nerve to say that… but I wish I had. It would have made a better ending to the post.