Chai, Two Lumps

I was in Turkey for three weeks working at a museum. My assumption before visiting Turkey was that I would be drinking a lot of Turkish coffee. But they don’t drink as much coffee as they do tea or, as they call it, chai. Chai was a part of everyday social interaction, business dealings and every meal. When someone offers you chai, you accept.  I did not accept on a few occasions and always ended up spending more time explaining why we couldn’t stay for chai than it would have been to just have had the drink.

Chai is served hot extremely hot. I secretly think this is so more time can be spent hanging out and talking while it cools down. Chai is traditionally served in hourglass shaped glasses so that any loose chai leaves get caught in the bottom of the glass.  

We were at the museum late one night, waiting for a shipment. In Izmit, large trucks are not allowed on the roads during the day, so we got shipments early or late. And when you are waiting for a shipment, you drink chai.  One of our interpreters, Setar, was helping with delivery and offered me chai via the security guards. I agreed and was asked how many sugars I wanted. I said two because it was late and I was considering this dessert chai. Two sugars is considered a lot.  Almost as many as three or four.  Setar then brought up a memory from his youth.  He said he remembered a Bugs Bunny cartoon where chai was being served and when Bugs Bunny’s nemesis asked for three or four sugars, Bugs hit him on the head.

Here is that clip:

I immediately found this both funny and interesting.  In the translation from English to Macedonian (I didn’t mention that Setar is 24 year old from Macedonia, moved to Turkey to go to school, showed up not speaking a bit of Turkish, was not allowed in school because he couldn’t speak the language and then worked in a restaurant over the next 6 months, picking up the language as he went along. His comment to me, “Once you know how a person is feeling, you can learn what they are saying.”) So in the translation from English to Macedonian, it was just translated as, “How many sugars to you want?” not “How many lumps do you want.” Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack.

Why is this interesting?  When I explained it to him (sugar = lumps = lumps are bumps) he “got it.” But either way, it was still something that he remembered and thought was funny, even though the actual joke was not revealed until 20 years later.   Bugs Bunny has that effect.

This is probably even more interesting because the translation in the cartoon was probably done correctly and that Setar was just humoring me with my observation.  Satar probably saw that I was proud of my clarification of the joke, knew that I was excited about my observation and that it would be best to leave it at that. Everyone happy. Everyone drinking chai.

No comments: