Wednesday, 17 March 2010
So, can you imagine my surprise when I first started to learn Norwegian and discovered there was no word for ‘please’? I couldn’t think how a language could evolve without ‘please’, how on earth the Norwegians had managed to communicate at all, never mind ask for something. (There is the word ‘behage’ which is a verb and so means ‘to please’....so it doesn’t do the same job) And didn’t they feel annoyed when everyone was so demanding and direct all the time? How was I going to manage?
If you see a Brit in Norway in a paroxysm of agony at a supermarket checkout, this is the reason...they are wondering how on earth they are going to say ‘please’ when there is no word for it. They are flummoxed. Their internal workings are tied up in knots trying to plan what on earth to say. Assuming one would normally say ‘please’ to the cashier at least seven times, an alternative strategy is required.
The day I came up with my alternative strategy, I was mightily relieved. At last, I could go to the supermarket and not come back in gut-churning confusion. I decided that where there should be a ‘please’ I would just say ‘thank you’ instead. I was thrilled at my brilliance. Norway was my oyster.
My ingenious strategy worked splendidly for about a year, until I realised I was saying it wrong. Instead of a short, sharp ‘takk’ (which means thank you), I was saying a long-drawn-out, very English-sounding ‘tak’(which means roof).
So, my conversation, for a whole year, ran thus.
‘Hei, hei.’ You have to say this twice. Nobody has ever explained why, so I assume it makes one come across as doubly friendly.
‘How are you today?’
‘Great! Roof,’ I announce with unrivalled conviction.
‘Nice day. Been outside?’
‘Yes, roof. I’ve just been out for a walk.’ I beam heartily.
‘Excellent. Go anywhere nice?’
‘Yeah, roof, down the beach. It was lovely, roof.’
‘Mm, nice. Will you need a bag for your shopping?’
‘No, roof, I’ve brought my enormous set of catering baskets, roof,’ I reply triumphantly.
‘That’s four hundred and fifty two kroner.’
‘Oh, yes, roof,’ I say with lucid comprehension.
‘Do you have two kroner?’
‘Erm, yeah, I do actually. Here you go. Roof,’ I say helpfully.
‘Fantastic. Do you need a receipt?’
‘Yeah, roof, that would be grand. Roof, roof, roof,’ I smile gratefully.
‘Ok, see you soon. Bye.’
‘Bye, and roof,’ I yell with a cheery little wave.
I would just like to point out, the Norwegians are so polite they didn’t mention any of this to me for quite a long time.
Posted by Returning Scot at 10:16