I try not to be racist but some nationalities just really wind me up. I don’t like English rugby writers or Australian cricket commentators, and have an inherent suspicion of 99 per cent of American politicians.
I should be more cynical of Germans, Italians and Japanese but they produce some damned fine automobiles so I’m prepared to forgive them the occasional world war or two.
And as a part-time rally co-driver I can’t afford to be picky. When your next ride could be a heavily accented Swede or Frenchman then their mangled English is sweet music compared to the Yorkshireman I last sat with.
Hell, I’ve even navigated for a bloke from Botswana who only spoke in clicks. What later turned out to be a faulty intercom connection he incorrectly interpreted as ‘go flat over the next crest’. We eventually resolved that little issue by installing Google Translate.
The reason I’m discussing foreigners is a problem I recently encountered at my local Turkmenistan restaurant. I didn’t even know this was a real country but they serve the most amazing barbecued lamb in pita pockets. I used to eat inside but that’s also where they keep the sheep awaiting slaughter, so I tend to just use the drive-through option these days.
And that’s where the trouble started.
I bowled up to the speakerphone and tried to place my order. The bloke at the other end sounded more like he was from Mumbai than Central Asia but he repeated the items back correctly and was unfazed when I used cash rather than card. Unfortunately he fumbled my change and the coins rolled under the Bongo.
“I will retrieve them for you sir,” he said, and emerged from a side door. He was grovelling under the van and politely asked, “Can you move forward 1.5 metres, sir?”
Nice bloke, I thought, even if he does sound like the dude who keeps ringing me to ask for my internet banking password.
I sat there for a couple of minutes and wondered what was causing the delay. Normally I’m in and out of there in a flash but this was starting to drag on. Impatiently, I reversed back to the microphone and asked if there was a problem? Perhaps they were threading a fresh ovine carcase onto a kebab skewer?
A harsh guttural noise came from the speaker that was completely unintelligible.
“Can you repeat that, mate? I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
The speaker belched forth another blend of snorts and phlegm that made just as much sense as the first burst.
This is bloody hopeless, I thought. I’m dying of starvation out here while they’re stuffing around. I glanced in the mirror to see if I was holding up a queue but it was clearly a lean day for the Turkmenistan butchers. And yes, that was a meat joke, in case you were wondering.
A waiter appeared from the front door and looked around, nonplussed. I tried to attract his attention by gesturing towards my empty mouth but he shot back inside before I could get my point across.
“Can you get that little Indian bloke back on the headset?” I asked, but all I got was the same garbled nonsense. I’m not going in there angry, I thought – these guys probably still use scimitars to cut up their sheep. The consequences could be truly offal.
Then I remembered my previous success with Google Translate.
I held my cellphone up as close to the speaker as possible and asked them to carefully enunciate each word. I mean, obviously I didn’t use the actual word ‘enunciate’ because that would’ve just caused even more grief, but you get my drift.
The speaker rattled back a strangled whelp and I looked at my screen for insight. The text read: “SIR YOU HAVE PARKED ON MY THROAT. CAN YOU PLEASE CALL AN AMBULANCE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR CUSTOM AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
I haven’t been back.