Tuesday, September 21, 2010

(Girl)friend in a koma

I went to a christening on Saturday, in which we (and a whole host of others) became godparents (I can only assume that the two actual parents have concluded they will just have the one child, as they must have godparentised pretty much everyone they know). It was a much better priest than the last one I saw christen a baby in this part of the world, but he’d have had to go some to beat that racist old bastard. (In truth he seemed like a nice bloke, for a priest, etc etc. He didn’t care that I, for example, am not, nor have any intention of ever being, a Catholic. Though he was apparently told that I am Anglican which is a little bit weird to me – in these parts you are what you were “at birth”, not what you actually decided to be once you were old enough to actually have an opinion of your own. Not sure if he’d have been more challenged to learn that I am actually a godless heathen rather than, as advertised “an Anglican”)

Anyway the post church bit party, featured the massed ranks of godparents (there were 11 of us for the record, I may have exaggerated a little for effect in the previous paragraph, but that’s still a fair number. An entire football team of godparents), and an absolutely (and dangerously) delicious apple palinka which I could have drunk all night, so smooth and tasty was it. As it was the few that I did have, were a few more than I should have had, as I discovered when staggering home.

During one (relatively sober) conversation with a fellow godparent, she used a word which I wasn’t really familiar with, to describe our relationship. As she had no idea of the English term for it, I called upon Bogi (my 11-year old stepdaughter, and occasional translator) to provide some help. “Koma?”, she said (for that was the word we were struggling with), “It’s, errm, someone you go to the pub with”. As a lapsed language teacher, I find this kind of circumlocution is very laudable, and I was proud of her way of coming up with a way of explaining something she couldn’t really translate. However, it turned out that this was a fairly loose translation, and in fact koma, in this instance at least, means the relationship that two godparents of the same child have with one another. I’m 99.9% sure that we don’t actually have such a word in English, so I could hardly fault her, and if it turns out that my komas become drinking buddies, then I shall not be complaining. (It also of course gives me a great opportunity to use a not-at-all-forced title for this blog entry)

We don’t have a word for that do we? Perhaps it’s that British way of remaining as distant as possible from people in case we suddenly end up with obligations or the necessity of a relationship. There is a slightly sickly expression “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet”. I suspect the standard English version is “A stranger is someone you might not like, who you haven’t met yet”. And of course, we act accordingly.


oanababy said...

Aren't languages funny like that? My favourite is "cuscra" in Romanian ... no equivalent in English for that one.

Stephie said...

I don`t know a German word for koma either. We don`t discribe the relation between godparents. And thinking of my godparents, I have to say that there isn`t any relation at all. ;)
My dictionary gives some translations, but they`d mean "friend" and something like "my brother".
Senkis explanation is a very cool one! Love it!

Lots of greetings to Erika and the children!


Laci said...

Nice post,

indeed, "koma" is quite interesting and maybe exists more among szekelys than Hungarians in general. As far as I know the traditional role of a godfather was to raise the child, should anything happen to the parents. Actually "koma" is the relation between the parents and the godparents, rather than between several godparents of the same child (which is some new thing probably).

But the interesting thing is that for szekelys godfathership is usually reciprocal: I am godfather of your child and you are godfather of my child, so we are "koma". Contrast this with the Italian (also Romanian - someone correct me if wrong) tradition where the respected, wealthy, elderly member of the extended family (or village) is the godfather of pretty much everyone. He protects his godchildren, who in return perform duties as asked --- which leads to a more hierarchical organization (and in some parts of Europe to the maffia :)