Friday, July 31, 2009

Bobby Robson

When I was an English teacher in Porto (many years ago), me and another English teaching friend rang up FC Porto and asked if we could bring our football-mad teenage students to meet Bobby Robson, who was then managing the club. Obviously we fully expected a no, but to our surprise, the club put us through to his office and he picked up and agreed right off the bat. We got to see a closed training session in the Antas Stadium itself (the old one), and then we went down to the offices and he sat and chatted and answered all of their questions for close to an hour, before taking us on a tour of the trophy room. He just seemed genuinely happy to offer whatever he could to us.

A smashing bloke and a real gentleman. RIP

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cultural False Friends

You are probably already familiar with the ideas of cognates and false friends. Cognates are words which are related to each other in different languages. English and Romanian, for example, contain a fair few cognates, since Romanian is Latin based, and English has tons of Latin based stuff in it. English and Hungarian on the other hand have very very few cognates, because Hungarian is just bloody weird. (And because they have one of those academies which insists on creating new words for new things, they don't even have easy-to-grasp words for things like "The Internet" or what have you).

False friends, are words which you think are probably cognates, but turn out not to be. The most famous example of this is the Spanish word embarazada, which means pregnant (and not embarrassed as people tend to assume). Though my personal favourite is the Portuguese word constipação which actually means "a cold", and so (because I have a puerile mind) makes me imagine Portuguese tourists going to the chemists in the UK while on holiday and asking for medicine for their cold, and getting something else.

Hungarian to English has one or two false friends - trafik, for example, actually means kiosk or tobacconists (there must be a "My hovercraft is full of eels" joke I could squeeze in here, but I can't work out how). Akció, on the other hand, means "special offer" or "discount", and not anything like "action". (This is also a Hungarian/Romanian false friend, as you sometimes see shops here with signs in the window saying Akció/Acţiune, which makes the same error. A slightly ruder example is the Hungarian word Szakadék which means cliff or abyss, and nothing like how it sounds (which is more or less "suck-a-dick")

Between English and Romanian there are one or two which come up all the time - nervous being the most obvious. The Romanian word nervos actually means angry, and this causes people (not least me) a lot of confusion. I think the Romanian word mizerabil means something like filthy, which is also a tad confusing. Then of course there's the common menu item crap (fillet of crap, fried crap, grilled crap, etc).

But, I have come upon a new concept here, and that is the cultural false friend. There is a Romanian word imediat, which you hear very often. How long will it be? Imediat. When will you be finished? Imediat. When can I expect it? Imediat. Now, in theory, imediat is a cognate. It means, as you might expect, "immediately". It's just that in English, immediately means "right away", or "I'll drop everything and get it done right now". It doesn't really mean that in Romanian. It means something more like "soon-ish" or "when I get round to it", or "in a week or so". So, I've had to mentally redesignate it as a false friend, or otherwise it just gets too confusing, and more that that, it creates unreasonable expectations (for me).

Any other cultural false friends? Or even just amusing linguistic ones?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Paper View

I have a nascent theory of the "it came to me while lying awake one night/while I was drinking a beer" variety, that you can judge the quality of a holiday destination by the British newspapers on sale there.

The highest quality such destination is the one that doesn't actually have any British newspapers on sale at all - as that means the place doesn't actually attract enough british people to make it worth while (note: this only actually applies to holiday destinations - you can't buy English newspapers in Csikszereda, but this doesn't imply a high-quality place, merely remote and uninteresting to any outsiders)

However if the number of UK visitors does create enough demand to stock newspapers, then you can start wondering about why and how decisions are made to order which papers. In Malta a couple of years ago, for example, where I was working, the only papers available were The Sun, Mail, and Express. The three worst mass readership papers in the country. The thoroughly downmarket, Murdoch owned Sun, and the two extreme right wing anti-immigration/anti-foreigner rags Express and Mail. Frightening. What had Malta done to deserve this little slice of little-englander hell in it's corner shops and kiosks? Sure the vast majority of English people there were elderly people seemingly escaping the British winter, but not all such people are obnoxiously right-wing, surely? Or are they all in Malta not so much to get away from the weather but to get away from all those foreigners?

Thassos, which is what made me think of this half-baked nonsense in the first place, had the following British newspaper options - Mail, Express, Sun, Mirror and Times (to add to the English language newspaper options it was also possible to buy the International Herald Tribune). Not sure what message this is giving us about Thassos. That tourists there are somewhat right of centre in general (and in the case of the Mail/Express saddoes, completely off the chart). That there was no place for the middle ground Guardian/Independent reader? It's a rum do and no mistake. Wonder what you get in Chiantishire? Guardian and Telegraph?

So, I bought the Times once. I'm not proud of it since it's a Murdoch paper, but I could justify it to myself since the newspaper's online presence does boast the most consistently funny podcast that I know of - The Bugle. I learned that the Times is the official newspaper of The Ashes, whatever that means (it obviously means that the paper contained ludicrous amounts of coverage of said cricketing event), and that it's editorial team have obviously decided that the solution to all the world's problems is David Cameron. One of those "If the answer is David Cameron, it must have been a particularly stupid question" type things. It's a bit like imagining the problems of the world's entertainment industry could all be solved by James Blunt. Another bland vapid inoffensively rubbish toff.

I also bought the IHT (as we seasoned travellers know it). It's not a bad paper all round (though it does give airtime to idiots like Thomas Friedman), but why oh why do all US newspapers do this thing where they start a load of stories on the front page and then ask you to turn to another page to finish each one? It's mad. You have to go front page, page 3, front page, page 5, front page, page 3, front page, page 4, and so on for ages. What possible advantage does it serve? Why don't people complain? It drives me mental.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Greeced Lightning

Back from our too-short holiday in Skala Potamia, Thassos, Greece. Lots of sun, sea, sand and errrm, well that's it for obvious words beginning with "s", since we were in a small two room apartment with three kids. Salad, I suppose. There was a lot of salad.

You know those brochure style images of couples walking hand-in-hand down a moonlit beach? Sitting in candle-lit restaurants slowly sipping wine and eating delicious food? Frolicking playfully (yet with the obligatory hint of sex) in the foaming waves? None of that stuff happens when you're on holiday with children. Or at least not with our children. Perhaps others have some foolproof sleeping-pills-and-ouzo concoction by which they cleverly create space for themselves, but not us.

Anyway it was a good holiday and I wouldn't like my obvious need to spend a week on holiday just with Mrs Musings to overshadow that fact. The sea was perfect - warm clean clear water, gently sloping beach allowing kids to play without fear of going under, fine white sand. Food was Greek (which means fantastic). The Mythos was cold. We didn't do much besides hang around on the beach, but that was fine.

Driving to Thassos is also easier (and quicker) than driving to Croatia as we've done in the last couple of years. It's just a straight shot down to Giurgiu in Romania, across a ridiculously unkempt border post and run down bridge over the Danube (especially ridiculous given that this is a majorly important border crossing in EU terms, and beyond - the route from Turkey to the west pretty much has to go through here), across Bulgaria, and then into Greece at the the three way Bulgaria/Greece/Turkey border area. From there you hit "developed EU" and the roads are superb all the way to Keramoti, the port for Thassos.

There is a bit more too it than that obviously. For example when I say "just a straight shot down to Giurgiu" I have conveniently left out the need to get past Bucharest. This is no easy task. I asked on a Romanian forum before going for advice, and got lots of helpful answers (which of course all contradicted each other as is the way of these things). Based on that, on the way down we decided to try the "centura" (belt) which is the sort of ring-road thing round Bucharest. My god, what a road. It's more pot hole than road, has incredible traffic and baffling road rules (all the "spokes" going in and out of the city have priority over the centura, so you have to crawl across these mad, churned up junctions every couple of kilometres, dodging cars, being squeezed by trucks, just generally living on a knife edge). On the way back, as it was a Saturday, I decided to instead try out the "driving through the middle of the city" option. Arguably this was better - the roads were in better condition, the traffic was still heavy, and complex, but at least there was slightly more logic to the road junctions. On the other hand, they have obviously banned signs in Bucharest - the only directions point you to the various barrios. This is all very well if you actually want to go to cartier tineretului or wherever, but not much use for the outsider. It wasn't until I had somehow negotiated myself to the road leading out of town from the Arcul de Triumf that I first saw a sign pointing to the airport. I mean surely this is information that might be useful to people? Madness. I think it's some massive scam to try and sell more GPS systems (it's certainly the first place I've ever driven in which I've felt I could have used one. Though such is the disregard shown for out-of-towners that it wouldn't surprise me if the City Hall jammed the signal of Satnavs within the city limits).

Bulgaria, like Romania, is a bit of motorway free zone. But unlike Romania, the other roads are actually pretty good. Even roads marked as minor white ones on the map are in good shape (you'd never venture onto one you weren't familiar with here for fear of spending three hours negotiating a 10 km section of untarmacked hell). It's helped by the fact that almost nobody seems to live in Bulgaria, meaning that you only pass through a village every 20 kms as opposed to every 3 kms here. And when you do it's empty of the horsecarts, dogs, cows, drunk blokes, cyclists, children, and wandering people of all varieties that you get here. (This allows for fast driving but it is slightly disconcerting. It was almost a relief to get back to Romania and it's colourful vibrant chaotic villages on the drive home). The other border, at Svilengrad is the starkest contrast you're ever likely to see within the EU. You cross from organised, fast, clean, well-kept Greece, into shabby poverty-stricken mayhem of what appears to be a major Rroma shanty town in Bulgaria.

Finally, a recommendation. If you're ever driving thorugh Bulgaria (either from N-S or E-W or any combination thereof, and you want a place to stay somewhere in the middle, try the Shipka IT Hotel. Fantastcially helpful and friendly owners, great hotel, good value, in a really nice village at the bottom of the mountains in the Valley of the Roses. Even if you've no plans to drive through Bulgaria, then make some, just so you can stay there. We stayed there both coming and going and felt like we were saying goodbye to friends at the end.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Csikszereda: going to the Blogs

A few weeks ago, I reported on the blog competition that was going on here. Well the competition closed yesterday and the winners were announced. It turned out that I was one of the judges of the competition (I didn't know I would be when I wrote before) so I did read all of them in great depth, and they are a fantastic bunch of very different, very interesting, well written, well put together blogs.

There were 10 entrants and 6 of them would all have been worthy winners. In the end the winners were:
Under 18 category:

First place- Visit Csikszereda! This one is great and really has some superb photos on it, and has used the visuals in a very good way.
Second place- Aagota's Hometown Again very good, a nice variety of stuff and a different kind of format.

Over 18 category:

First place- Csixereda!? Another really excellent blog. Some really nice pieces of writing (and excellent English). I urge you to watch the video by local band "Los Colorados"
Second place - Ikarosz Grocery Different, varied, great design, very original. Good mixture of items

Public online vote:
A Piece of Harghita. I loved this one, and actually it was my top choice for the competition, so I'm glad it won the public vote, after being pipped in the under 18 category. Very interesting, well written, great design, I loved the way he uses video. Highly recommended.

Not to forget:
Zsu's Blog. Sadly there were only 5 awards made, and as it turns out there were 6 really excellent blogs, so this one missed out, but it is still worth your attention. Well thought out, good design, nice writing and presentation. Good use of pictures.

So, I'm actually about to go on holiday for the next ten days or so, and anyway, it's not like I've been around a lot of late, so, I'd like to recommend that anyone who is in the vaguest bit interested in Csikszereda/Miercurea Ciuc take a look at these blogs. And I'd like to urge the authors to keep at it, since they're doing a great job and they shouldn't stop when the competition is over.

To finish, shamelessly ripped from "A Piece of Harghita" a video presentation of this town. Manages to achieve in 4 minutes what I have failed to do in 5 years of incessant rambling on here