It’s been a while since last I saw Jack. He’s been away; I’ve been busy. Telephonically we arranged to get together at our usual feeding stall.
We knew that the Bayshore Mall was undergoing construction, and had, in fact, been inconvenienced quite a few times lately. But imagine our surprise when we learned that the third-floor Food Court had been moved to the second floor in another part of the enlarged building.
I said “The price of progress! Did you come by car?”
“No,” said Jack, “I walked.”
“Smart move,” I said. “I drove up to the highest level of the parking garage – that normally being the one I find easiest to get out of. When I got there I couldn’t find a parking spot. So I had to go down. You have no idea how long it took me to find the exit route. Totally inadequate signage. It was only through sheer luck that I stumbled on the way to the floor below.”
“Glad you made it,” said Jack.
“And then, when I got into the mall proper, by an entrance different from the one I usually took, I looked for a directory. Well, the old one showed the three levels of stores with a legend. It had been replaced. The new one is supposedly more user-friendly, but it isn’t. You have to work some kind of keyboard to search for a store by name. The old directory had the stores grouped by type, with visual links to the floors and the numbered stores. My main beef is that ten or more people could consult the old directory at the same time; the new one allows only one person at a time to do his search, the others have to wait in line for their turn. If I weren’t so lethargic, it would make me angry.”
“Anything else stick in your craw?” Jack asked, as we were working our way through lunch
I noticed a sign at one of the establishments in the food court that listed the prices of several kinds of drink. The one that caught my attention was the word “latté”.
I said “Jack, here we have a store – admittedly a small one – specializing in coffee, and the idiots don’t even know how to spell ‘latte’. It’s an Italian word, not a French one.”
“I know,” said Jack, “why can’t they just say ‘café au lait’, which is what ‘caffè latte’ means, after all.
“On the other hand would it make you feel any better if people asked for ‘kah-fay-oh-lay’?
“Not of they did it far enough away from me.”
“On the same subject,” I said, “I do a little mental flip when I hear people asking for the “par-muh-zhan” cheese rather than Parmesan cheese. Do they figure it makes them a little more interesting?”
“Ah, they’re just trying to be a little more authentic; maybe they’ve been to Italy.”
“And the people who pay ‘Oh-mahzh’ instead of ‘hommidzh’ or ‘ommidch’ want to show that they’ve been to France?”
“No, they just want to let you know they know how the natives pronounce the word, although they rarely get the accent right – maybe that would be overdoing it a bit.”
I said “when you’re trying to be authentic, why not go all out? I’ve mentioned before that I refuse to say “Beijing” and “Mumbai”. For me the old transliterations were quite good enough: “Peking” and “Bombay”. So why don’t we also give the respective countries their proper names “Bahrat” and “Zhong-guo."
Jack said “maybe that’s next on the politically correct agenda.”
I said “one phrase – two words, actually – that bugs me is ‘chaise lounge’. As you know, Jack, the words are actually ‘chaise longue’ – a long chair. But the ‘u’ has migrated from before the ‘ng’ to after the ‘ng’. That makes the word look like lounge, and that’s what the chair allows people to do: lounge. It’s a lounging chair. But why people insist on using the hybrid name is another little mystery of life.”
“That’s the English for you, Anyhow, it’s not something we can do anything about; it’s just something we have to live with,” said Jack with a wink, meaning that that’s usually my defense of the indefensible.
“Apart from that,” I asked, “how are you feeling these days?”
“Reasonably well,” answered Jack, “as well as can be expected.”
“Would you care to elaborate?”
“No,” said Jack.
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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