A new low.


The difficulty in being surrounded by beoble who either don’t speak English or don’t speak it particularly well, is that your own level of English suffers and starts to deteriorate as you endeavour to make yourself understood.

Last year I taught a class full of 6 year old Saudis and without realising it my language skills began to slip. I’d start dropping prepositions, restricting myself to a single verbal tense or simply speaking in a bullet point fashion so as not to confuse the children.

I’d find myself admonishing a child  in a Tarzan-esque language:

“Why you do this? This bad! No do this. OK?”

A further consequence of being immersed in such an environment is that you’re often slow to realise when you’ve stepped outside of it. I remember, after having taught intensely for about two and half hours, I got a message that my principal wanted to see me on an unrelated matter.

I went to his office as instructed and was midway through our conversation when I suddenly became acutely aware that I was talking like a Neanderthal to a man who spoke perfectly good English.

Another corruptive problem that I’ve found stems from the lack of fame the land of Scotland has in Saudi Arabia.

I say this brushing aside for a moment all those Saudis (and a disturbing amount of ex-pats) who’ve seen the film Braveheart and insist on re-enacting it whenever I mention my country of birth.

“Where are you from?” or more commonly “From where you?” can be an everyday question over here; from taxi drivers and shop assistants to the general folk of the street.

I’ve rapidly given up explaining my Scottish decent to off-hand enquiries on nationality from random strangers who seem only able to equate white skin with America.

So, to end such an inquisitive conversation as soon as it starts I often resort to “I’m English” before continuing “How much for the [insert shop product name here]?”

However, yesterday I noticed a new low with my unintentional loss of identity.

I was in a cargo delivery shop looking for quotes on sending items to Edinburgh, Scotland. Momentarily sighing to myself as I noticed that the man had written “Adambr” on his notepad.

But I didn’t feel a compulsion to intervene into his quote-catalogue page-flicking until I saw his finger running down a list of cities of the “United States of America” as he searched for “Adambr.”

Much to my subsequent shame, the urge within me to get the process speeded up blurted out the phrase:

“No, Scotland! It’s in England.”

Now, my mother has been very patient with the various changes that Islam has brought me over the years but I fear that were she to ever hear that I’d identified my homeland as being part of its historic enemy, it might finally lead to the ostracization that things like giving up celebrating Christmas failed to provoke.

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12 Comments

Filed under School, The World Through My Eyes

12 responses to “A new low.

  1. Salaam, my sister once had this conversation with a fellow passenger on a plane to Pakistan:

    Passenger: So where are you from?
    Sister: We’re from Glasgow..
    P: Glasgow? Where’s that?
    S: It’s in Scotland
    P: Scotland? Where’s that?
    S: Err.. the top part of Britain?
    P: Britain? Where’s that?
    S *very confused*: Where London is?
    P: Ooohhhh, you’re from London! You should have said!

    It’s not like we were in a foreign country, we were still at Heathrow!

  2. Wow! You’d have thought they would have clicked on at Britain.

    I think there’s definitely a case to be argued that the Scottish tourist board needs raise our international profile.

    Can we not start a war or something? I’m sure that’d get us on a few news channels worldwide and it’d be quicker than waiting for a world cup football victory (not that I’m a fan though).

  3. I teach this girl from Afghanistan and because she doesnt speak much english I too find that i start speaking like you describe. It just comes out of nowhere… >_<

    Also, when i went for umrah, people would ask me where i’m from. When i said to them, England, they’d be like oooh London! For them the whole of England = London, which was annoying!

  4. I’ve been told that the solution to protecting my English in such circumstances is to try and read more.

    Yeah, some people on ‘umrah can be surprisingly dense at times. On my first ‘umrah someone asked me if I was Muslim.

  5. AA-

    “Why you do this? This bad! No do this. OK?”

    LOL! My wife and kids do it all the time when they talk to the driver. Their English becomes neanderthal-ish and its soooo funny, especially my kids.

    But amazingly, their able to switch it right off when they talk to anyone else.

    Another funny/frustrating thing is how the Arabs (Saudis and others) switch to a form of neanderthal Arabic when they hear me struggling to converse in Arabic. Its actually quite annoying as it doesn’t help me to learn the proper way of speaking….

    Which actually leads me to conclude that when we speak broken English to newbies, we’re in fact hurting their learning experience.

  6. Yes, I’ve no doubt that we harm their English learning when we “adapt” as we do, but it’s difficult not to as It’s often unintentional.

    Even with my own children, I remember my wife telling me off for speaking to my kids as they spoke to me.

    I’d find the childish grammar that they’d develop cute and would use it with them sometimes.

    One of my children started to say “shim” as the feminine version of “him”, which I just loved and would use, until I was reprimanded for it : ( . “Shim no like it.”

    But it’s true it reinforces bad learning, so if you want someone to progress you have to come correct yourself.

  7. Shim! How cute, masha’Allah!

  8. Umm Musa

    Salaams,

    I too would insist on re-enacting Braveheart (not all of it) and I’m from England – not the Scottish part of it either
    .
    Maybe the Saudi’s need to see things like ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and use real scottish oats etc…

    Here in the UAE we too slip into neanderthal English, it just takes over lol.

    Glad the blog is back, I used to read it when it was ‘hats on vowels’ – salaams to your Mrs and family.

  9. Al

    There’s a similar colour issue in the UAE, when i tell people I’m from England they look at my colour and think- “you’re not English”.
    They will then procede to ask you about every member in your family tree until they finally pin you to somewhere other than England!

    Pure madness.

  10. Yes, that is very common here too.

    Sad but true.

  11. Haha great post. I always end up speaking neanderthal English too, it gets really embarrassing when I’m back home (Scotland) talking to native English speakers and I sound simple. I have a case of it now actually, living with an Egyptian as I do and simplifying everything just to be understood.

    On another note, equating Scotland with England? I used to go nuts when someone introduced meas English in Egypt. When I corrected them and said Scottish whoever I was just meeting would say “wow.. braveheart and castles. Lots of ghosts yes?”

  12. It just makes you wonder how Scottish ex-pats in the Middle East were able to explain their heritage before Braveheart was made.

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