Lost in Translation

There’s this Darija phrase that I thought was just another way of saying “hello.” I just found out a few days ago that it actually means “good morning.” For the past three weeks, I have been cheerfully telling my neighbors and the local hanoot (shop) owners “good morning!” at 8 or 9 pm, and none of them have ever corrected me!

When I lived in France, most of my conversations happened in my second language (French) and the other person’s first language. When I was working with Spanish-speaking newcomer students in the U.S., most conversations happened in my first language (English) and the others’ second language. Here in Morocco, I often have to rely on my second language and the other person’s second language. At my university the other day, my department head introduced me to the Dean. His English wasn’t great, my Arabic was barely there, so we quickly switched to French. We understood each other perfectly.

But sometimes, when you’re both speaking your second or third languages, communication errors happen. The other day, I went to a café and asked for a coffee and a “pain au chocolat.” Now, in France at least, “pain au chocolat” refers to a chocolate croissant, but literally it means “bread with chocolate.” The waiter brought me exactly that. Four slices of bread covered in generous amounts of nutella. I wasn’t gonna complain, though.  It was delish.


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