Monday, December 04, 2006

Even when I understand, I don't understand

Not that I’m making the claim that I really “understand” Hungarian, just... I’ve noticed that recently, even when I understand the words someone says, I still miss the point.

For example, today in Spar. I put my bag of cleaning powder on the counter. The girl says, in perfectly understandable Hungarian, “Do you know what this costs? Two hundred something?” I, being the helpful person I am, say, “Just a minute,” run to check, and report back: “Two hundred ninety-nine.”

“Two hundred ninety-nine what?” says the girl blankly.

“The powder,” I reply, slightly confused at her lack of short-term memory. “It costs 299.”

Except it turned out, as she patiently explained to me, that she wasn’t actually asking how many forints it cost, she was merely remarking how cheap it was. In question form. Just like I would say in English: “Wow, do you know how cheap this is?!”

Lesson learned: in addition to processing the words I hear, I should also think for a second about how literal the speaker is being.


jrj said...

i consider it a victory that you know how to say 299.


okay, fine, so i'm not good at Hungarian, but I can tell you that if you buy too many lamps on a contract-payment plan, the court will find it unconscionable, and therefore void, if there's an absence of meaningful choice for one party, coupled with unreasonably favorable terms for the other party.

in america, at least.

jrj said...

szasz! i just remembered! that's the word for hundred.