Why is it that when learning a new language, the only words that are easily remembered are the swear words? Which means of course that you are left with a load of ways to be rude to people, admittedly helpful whilst driving in Bosnia but not ideal when you are trying to exchange pleasantries and ingratiate yourself into the nursery gate club.
The thing that I have noticed is that not only do I know the swear words, but I frequently get them muddled up with other, every day words. So I’ll be chattering away, massacring their language in a very British way with everyone smiling indulgently at my efforts and then, suddenly, their eyebrows fly through the roof and I realise that once again my Bosnian Tourettes syndrome has struck.
In particular there are 3 pairs of words that I cannot get straight in my head. First up are the words for eat (jede) and fuck (jebi). I’ll be chattering away and in my head, as I’m approaching the point at which I want to say ‘eat’ my mind will go blank and all I can do is think jede/jebi? Jede/jebi? Panicked I usually plump for the wrong one.
Then there is the write/piss combination (pisati/pišati (pronounced pishati)). This one is further confused by the fact that when conjugating the verb (ooo, get me, a real life linguist using words like conjugating and verbs as if I know what that means) they merge into each other. Pisati becomes pišem (pishem – I write) which just is remarkably similar to pišam (prounounced pisham meaning I piss).
My last set of words that I cannot get straight in my head is probably the worst. I want to say that we walk. This is something that we do a lot of, I mean we have a dog and there isn’t much else that I can do with 2 small boys that is guaranteed to tire them out. So we walk every day. Without fail. Come rain or shine. And every day I normally have to say to someone that we are going to go for a walk. The verb for walk is šetati (shetati). What I always find myself saying is ševiti (shjeviti). I still don’t know what it means, but when I say it people gasp, cover their mouths, widen their eyes and I know I’ve strayed into the really offensive territory, yet again.
We all know that it is easy to accidentally offend, especially in these days of remote communication. Messages sent by email, twitter etc. don't have the body language to allow the recipient to see that it was not intended the way in which it came across. It just so happens that I don't need to be remote to cause accidental offence and I need the body language so that people can see my foul mouth is just a combination of a mind going blank (again) and a complete inability to rise above being given the leaway to be able to swear in polite society and get away with it.
Emily Vest writes the Brits In Bosnia blog detailing life as an expat Mummy in Bosnia with 2 small boys now aged 3 and 4 1/2.
Photo Credit: Pfaff