Thursday, June 23, 2005

Salamat Po!

I've written in the past about how much I admire those who can speak two or more languages (computer languages excepted).

One of the guards at the customers site here speaks Tagalog (that's a given here in The Philippines) and English. I know he speaks English. I've heard him speak it and he does it better than the average American Teenager. No umms and aaahs and likes! :-)

But it seems he also speaks fluent Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Malaysian. Whilst I'm not in a position to verify this by direct experience this impresses the hell out of me! I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to learn he also speaks Russian and Inuit!

So I bethought myself that it wouldn't hurt me to learn to speak a few simple phrases in Tagalog given that it seems I'm going to be spending some time here. Simple phrases such as 'thank you', 'please', 'where is the dunny?' and suchlike.

I can say the first two in French and German and get away with it. The most obvious choice was 'thank you'. So I asked a Filipino colleague. He told me the word is 'salamat' for thank you and 'salamat po' for a more formal thank you. Somewhat akin to 'thank you very much' or 'merci beaucoup' or 'bitte sehr'.

So, armed with this new knowledge I tried it out on the waitress here at the hotel the other night. I find myself saying 'thank you' overmuch. Everytime they change the ashtray or bring a new glass of wine. So came my big moment. 'Salamat' I said.

She raised an eyebrow, much in the manner of someone who's heard it all and is tired of life. 'Pardon?' she said in impeccable French or English. 'Salamat' I replied, somewhat more timidly. 'What language are you speaking sir?' she asked, most diplomatically. I confessed that I thought I was speaking Tagalog.

The way she said it left me feeling rather like I'd made an improper suggestion. I was reminded of the time my Hungarian colleague, 20 years ago, related the story of his first job in Australia about 1954. His Australian workmates convinced him that the proper salutation to the foreman was 'f*** you, mate' and he repeated this phrase in all innocence.

I don't know what she thought I'd said and I chose not to ask. But I did see the same word on the hotel menu the following night and it meant 'thank you' no matter what injustice I did to its pronunciation!

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