Language Fails – Episode 4: Never nod your head to someone who is speaking a language you don’t understand.

Two days ago I had my first health scare in Guinea when I showed some malaria symptoms. As per our companies procedure I went straight to our medical department to test for Malaria, which fortunately came out negative. However as the day progressed I wasn’t getting any better and by the end of the day I had a fever and was losing some sensation in my fingers which really worried me.

At that point our medical team thought it better to go to the clinic to do more thorough tests. So off I went with a French only speaking nurse and a doctor who speaks English but with a limited vocabulary. At the clinic I went through the motions of blood pressure tests etc. They also drew some blood after struggling to find a vein in my arms and eventually the nurse gave up and pricked me in the hand.

After being prodded and tested our doctor came to me and said that I might have to spend the night at the clinic as he suspected I had some abdominal infection, but wanted to check with another doctor first. A couple of minutes later another doctor walks in and starts speaking to our doctor (all in French).

Now here is where the language fail occurred… Both doctors were communicating in French and every now and then they would look at me and say something in French. Now instead of telling them that my French was as good as a Lebanese’s Zulu, I decided that nodding in agreement would be  the most appropriate reaction. This went on for a couple of minutes until he said something (which could have been “Are you ready to die?”) and once again I nodded in agreement of my pending death. At this point his eyes opened up a little wider and frowned slightly and asked me “Do you speak French?!”. When I said no, he seemed a little bit relieved and went on to repeat everything in English and basically told me  that “il n’est pas mort” (It is not death) but simply stomach virus.

Lesson: Never nod in agreement to something in a language you don’t understand!

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7 Responses to Language Fails – Episode 4: Never nod your head to someone who is speaking a language you don’t understand.

  1. Jay says:

    Hahaha — good lesson to be learned!

  2. manenomatamu says:

    “Il n’est pas mort” exactly means : ‘He’s not dead’.

    Are you sure he didn’t say “C’est pas la mort” (it’s not that serious, lit. it isn’t death)?

  3. manenomatamu says:

    Oh and a Kenyan Somali friend of mine – who can’t speak Somali – once sat at a function next to an elderly man, nodding politely at everything he said to her in Somali.

    Embarrassment befell her when the man came over to her house a few days later to make arrangements with her parents: she had ‘agreed’ to be betrothed to his son!!!

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