I’m NOT “Engleeesh”!!

Whenever travelling in a non-English-as-a-first-language speaking country, I brush up and try to memorise a few common and important phrases like:-

  • hello / good morning / goodbye
  • how much / can I have the bill please?
  • where is the toilet?
  • please cook my steak RARE (vital for any self respecting South African on tour …..)

and the most important one of them all:-

excuse me, I don’t speak good ______ (insert language here) – do you speak English please?


The above phrase has stood me in good stead as it generally indicates to the listener that I have at least attempted to learn a few words of their language and as a rule, most people that I have encountered on my travels speak better English than I do their language and most often they want me to stop assaulting them with a ghastly attempt at pronunciation!

A recent conversation with a friend of mine currently travelling through various parts of Europe reminded me of the following encounter which I had forgotten to share after a trip I did last year.

We had stopped at a remote petrol station somewhere in rural France. Now rural French petrol stations come from a time long forgotten by most of us and the equipment certainly pre-dates my need to fill my own vehicle. I’m normally quite good with modern technology but quite rusty on the intricate workings of historical petrol pumping facilities – and this time I was beat – I just couldn’t figure out how to get the damn thing to spring to life and no matter what I did, it sat obstinately silent – as did the female attended covertly watching me from the kiosk where she resolutely refused to acknowledge any of my universal gestures to get the thing going.

I realised that a face-to-face encounter was required in this circumstance so I confidently walked over while rehearsing my all important phrase in my head, convinced that she would be both willing and able to resolve my predicament.

Me (in French) :- Bonjour Madame. Je ne parle pas bien le français , vous parlez anglais s’il vous plaît?”

Her (in French) :- non”

Me (in German) :- “sprechen sie Deutsche bitte?” (my German is far better than my French)

Her (in French) :- “non”

Me (in Afrikaans) :- “praat jy Nederlands, Flaamse of Afrikaans miskien?” (I can get by in Dutch or Flemish using Afrikaans – very handy)

Her (in French) :- “non”

Me (in Zulu) :- “haibo! khuluma wena Zulu?” (now the game was on and the stakes were rising ……..)

Her (speechless) :- “________” ??? (strange look on her face)

Me (in a HEAVY South African accent like I was struggling for words) :- “ag no man! I’m from Suth Afreeka and I need sum help and I can speak FOUR languages but I can’t speek good Frrrench (got to roll that “rrrrrr” huh?) – BUT YOU – YOU can ONLY speak Frrrench???”

Her (in heavy French accent) :- “OH! I’m so sorry sir – I thought you were ENGLEESH – how can I help you?”


Somtimes you just gotta keep quite and do what the sign above says……….