just enough to properly misunderstand

Driving up the road with E near her house I say something about a boy using the term “raklo” in reference to a Roma boy on the street. She laughs at me. As if I had just said something quite funny that blurred the boundaries of Roma/gadjo. And corrected me to “chavo”.

Two funny things so far

I’ve been just looking through (so far) half of the Romani Lexicon I’ve been compiling for the past couple of years. It’s got many more entries than represent the number of separate words and I’m checking through for evident mistakes and in particular doubles. It’s very interesting reading back through it because it lets me see certain ways that I misunderstood things. So these two really stood out.

I’d written down a phrase “na has passos te pandav man” which I understood at the time to mean “I don’t have any…???”. I recall writing that down. We must have been sitting in the car going somewhere. Our car is often very disorganised and the seats can be reversed at the back meaning that seatbelt attachments are sometimes not in the correct place or difficult to access. What the phrase probably refers to is somebody repeating to me, probably looking really surprised, the phrase “you haven’t got a seatbelt I can put on have you?” – A seatbelt? Do you have a seatbelt!.

I was in Istanbul very early on when I started trying to pick up some words of Romanes. Of Romani. I gone into the middle of the most Roma area of Istanbul I could find without going into the distant distant outskirts of the city. Sitting in a bar, initially befriended by a Roma man who had spent many years and still lived most of the time in Germany I spent a few hours with people coming up talking to me. I had a short vocabulary list with me at the time from Rotherham. People looked at this for something they might recognise. At some point they must have been pointing at or talking about money. They must I thought at the time have been trying to tell me the word for money. So I wrote down the word PARES. Now looking through the Lexicon I see that what they were doing was telling me that money was PARES, which I now know means difficult.

Two more stories I’ve just recalled after telling them to Columbine on the phone and then one more I told her.

I’ve heard a lot of my friends using the word “respect”. I’ve heard them say I respect you for example. I asked them the other day what was the Romani word for respect. The answer I got back was “respect” with the accent on the first ‘e’. At first I thought, maybe it’s from the Latin? But now I reflect it is the English respect, as in I show you respect, brother, phral.

I was travelling in a car earlier today with a slightly wide boy forty-year-old man with twelve children. We were in the car with his wife, one daughter and partner and one of his younger sons. The window was open and as we drove through Ellesmere Green he saw two people he knew or one perhaps he knew. Out of the window he shouted something at them and shortly afterwards I asked him what he’d said: Servos Lamo (I’m not sure what the second word was that it was somebody’s name or their nickname). I asked him what ‘servos” meant and he and his “son-in-law” both said that it meant “safe”, safe as in the slang use of it to mean everything is all right, how are things, respect et cetera.

I speak more and more and understand more and more. In fact I understand just enough to properly misunderstand. I was over with a family yesterday. Hey listen, they said to me, we found a new sofa. It’s a really nice sofa, it’s white, it’s really new and in good condition. Great, I said, looking around at the lovely black sofas in the room wondering why they wanted to replace them so soon. Look, they said, we are just wondering if you’ve got time whether you could bring the car so we could pick it up. We’ll help you take everything out, don’t worry, to make space. A gadjo man just round the corner has offered it to us. I agreed and we fixed a time. What will you do with the old sofas I asked them? Well we can put them in the car, and then I’ll give you a hand will take them up to the tip. Before we left I was told very urgently by people in the family “don’t tell the gadjo that they are for you, tell him the sofa is for us”. They reiterated that several times until I understood or at least part understood. I returned to the house an hour or so later and we duly set off. They went outside and I got in the car to follow them. They crossed the road and walked about 40 m to the corner of the road and I pulled up next to a house. Right opposite practically where they lived. There inside was a gadjo man with a sofa. I didn’t understand what was really happening. Why didn’t we just carry the sofa I tried to ask? It’s just over the road. I was trying this in Romani. One of my friends looked at me and gave a very theatrical wink to me saying “but it’s for you isn’t it Tim taking it to your house?” – “Oh yes! That’s right it’s for me. Let’s carry on then.” So we duly emptied out the car; onto the street poured my spare tyre, the seats that needed to be removed, all three of them, old broken walking sticks, plastic bags full of bits of wood my father’s given me to save for our out door fireplace, bits of old magazines and broken children’s toys, shopping bags with indistinct slightly mouldy things inside them, two pairs of roller skates, a pair of boots the odd shoe here or there and collections of oddments I don’t even recall. All these stood on the pavement against the wall while the sofa was put in. And then everything was piled back in on top of the sofa including all the cushions. At the end the back of the car wouldn’t actually close. But we all stopped my friend turned to me and said “okay let’s go”. I asked him where we were going. Your house he said. We going to your house its your sofa. You mean you’ve got a sofa from me? I asked incredulously. Yes it’s your sofa that’s what we’ve just done we got a sofa for you is really nice isn’t it? I explained that I had misunderstood. I didn’t want sofa. I thought I was getting the sofa for them. No it was for me they told me. It’s your sofa. But I couldn’t face taking a sofa back to my house. My house is already so overwhelmed with things that splurge out onto the street and occupy part of the pavement and the whole of the front garden. I couldn’t explain that but I couldn’t take the sofa back home. I thought about it while we sat in the front room, maybe that little sofa in the front room? I said. Yes that’d be good they agreed. But it turns into a bed I told them. Saskia will want to keep it as a bed. Then my sister emerged in conversation. Might she like it? But the anxiety of taking the sofa to her house and whether it would fit in whether she’d like it would be too much and I had to say no. We were all laughing hard by now. Everyone found it hilarious that I completely misunderstood and the farcical situation of my car overloaded with a sofa sitting outside their house. The sofa I thought was for them. We laughed. We could drive to Slovakia with a sofa in the car I said. We laughed some more I could drive down to Page Hall and shout out of the window “Sedachka, Sedachka” and we laughed some more. What to do with the sofa? My friend tried to phone a couple of people to see if they needed the sofa or wanted the sofa. No luck. My friend and his father went out onto the street and knocked on the door of a neighbour who did indeed want a sofa. And was very happy to have it brought to his house for a mere 10 pounds. So back out to the car I go and load all the odd bits and pieces once again onto a pavement at the other end of the street, no more than 80 m from where I’d just picked it up. Everything back on the pavement and then my friend and the neighbour carry the big sofa and as I am putting everything back in my car I see the neighbour struggling to bring the sofa through his front door and into the house.

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