Friday, September 6, 2013

Cute Language Uses: An unfortunate use of 'a' instead of 'the'

In the old days, when there were only a few places we foreigners went - apart from the girls who wanted to date foreigners - you would get a fair few gay men come to the bar. It wasn't that they were particularly looking to pick us up, it was more a case of them feeling free to be themselves in this bar - Remember, there are no homophobes in the west; it is just one big love-in.
But that wasn't the end of the story, as unlike straight Taiwanese men, they would feel the need to meet us foreigners and talk to us all night -We share an identity as social outcasts I suppose.
They were also very clever as they would befriend the girls in the bar - The girls in the bar liked to come with their gay friends because they could also be themselves: the traitorous, dirty slapper, free spirit that society said they were for liking foreigners. In fact, if you wanted to know the availability of a girl and the likelihood she might want to be with a foreigner just ask her how many gay friends she had. Similarly, if you see a girl wandering around the bar with a couple of gay guys target her: she is planning to do something her regular friends view as the activity of westerners; something that only other social outcasts would understand. What is she planning to do? Get drunk and maybe have a one night stand.
On this occasion i saw a girl who i had liked for a while. She wasn't with her female friends, rather an effeminate looking guy who was a little well-dressed and i guessed my luck was in.
I walked over.
"Hi," i said looking at her making my interest clear.
"Her English...Uh, not so good," he said. "I help you."
My heart sank a little as it was a noisy bar, and unfortunately his English was also not so good, either. What to do? I had to give it a go.
"Hi, I am Dan," I said. "What is her...Uh, I mean your...Both of you - what are your names?"
"Her is Little Mei. Me, I am Patrick," he said. "So where are you from?"
"England," I reply.
"Wow, I studied there for six months."
"Really," I asked. "Where?"
"Uh, London. How you say - I study a Queen's English."
I couldn't resist: "And you did a fantastic job."
"What?" he replied. "Thank you."
I thought about leaving it at that, but i guessed i should grasp this chance to get in his good books. Like with all things in Taiwan if you are recommended by the friend, they will cut off their hands for you.
"Sorry, anyway you don't want to say that. It is a grammar mistake that may result in misunderstanding...Especially for you."
"Queen also means gay."
"But i am gay," he replied. "What is wrong with that?"
"Nothing, but it is an often patronizing word for gay. Means - "
"What?" he said.
I was starting to sweat. I had started this explanation and feared i had no way to finish it.
"Again. Doesn't matter. Nothing, but would you go up to someone at a party and say i am studying a gay English?"
"I would love to meet the gay English," he replied.
"I am sure you would, but it is not my point....A not the...It just the fact - Forget it. Do you like to get your grammar wrong?"
"Uh, no," he replied.
"Ok, then just remember it is the not a....There is only one Queen," I said.
"England have two Queens," he replied. "She is Elizabeth II."
Great. In a country in which most people believed England was an American state, now i had an expert on English history.
"Yes, but when we talk about the Queen's English we are referring to this specific Queen's English and not the first."
The moment i finished speaking I knew the sentence was too difficult.
"You mean the first Queen didn't speak English?" he asked.
"Yes, she did," i replied. "But she has been dead for 500 years so it is clear we are talking about this Queen's English. You understand?"
I was lost at this point because it seemed he might have a point and I couldn't explain grammar.
"Anyway, just remember to use the. I am just trying to save you from being the butt - On the wrong end...The victim of a joke."
He whispered something in Little Mei's ear and they walked off.
I resolved never to help anyone again with the difference between a and the.