Monday, September 21, 2009

Just call me "Palmolive"

A quick vignette: at 8:05 am last Tuesday, the two-person work crew from TvNetWork (the only cable company in town willing/desperate enough to give me a ten month internet contract) rang my doorbell. Why they were fifty-five minutes early, I do not know. Obviously, the punctuality of workmen is yet another addition to my list of Hungarian American cultural differences. Nonetheless, I was far from awake, and attempted to get myself and my apartment in order as they climbed the five flights of stairs to my door.

For some reason, in every Hungarian handyman/service crew I have met (sample size of n=3), there always is a tall, husky gentleman with a hefty voice, and a short, thin gentleman with a much more wiry voice. They are always very kind, and laugh heartily - if not politely - at my hysterical attempts at Hungarian. I would probably find it funny too.

This crew was no different. One asked for dish soap, to grease the coaxial cable he was shoving through the drywall. I brought it to him, and he pointed to the bottle (or so I thought) and said, "Hogy hivja?," meaning 'how do you call it?"
I responded, "Dishwashing Fluid."
He snarled his nose, and responded, "Tényleg? A nevéd deesh-vash-ing flooid?"
- 'Really?Your name is deesh-vash-ing flooid?'

I had made an incredibly stupid linguistic mistake (but hey! it wasn't the first of this year! cf. the end of this post): though 'hogy hivja' does literally mean 'how do you call it?,' it is the third person singular conjugation. Like many other languages, Hungarian uses a different conjugation for formal of second person - it uses third person. So, since I was apparently someone worth sucking up to in this situation, he was addressing me formally. In my defense, I am not addressed in the second person formal often, if ever. And, it makes no clear sense to use third person singular for formal of second person singular - most other languages (cf. French) use the second person plural. I rest my case.

Nevertheless, for the next week, I will be responding to the name "Palmolive" in addition to Barbara.

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