I had a conversation a few months ago with some of the translators I was working with about being afraid to speak French because of fear of ridicule. One funny thing that came up during the conversation was the idea that demonstrating that you can swear decently in a language will frequently charm and/or amuse native speakers enough that they will forgive your really atrocious accent and grammar. In my limited experience, that seems to be a truism. And it appeals to me — I spent the first 25 years or so of my life having never said anything worse than “heck” or “darn”, and I seem to have spent the years since making up for lost time. You probably guessed that already by the recent words of the day. 😉
That reminded me of some books that are on the “Languages I would like to learn” shelves in my bookcases. (I should point out that I have the attention span of a hummingbird and am constantly finding new languages I would like to learn. Currently, I have books, software, videos, and/or tapes/CDs for French, German, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish, Romanian, Gaelic, and Russian, none of which I’ve looked at long enough to learn much of anything except what French I learned in high school. They cycle through my thoughts on a regular basis, but never long enough to be meaningful.)
Anyway, the books I was thinking of are the ones in the Wicked phrase book series by Howard Tomb and published by Workman Publishing. The books offer tongue-in-cheek phrases to take the traveller beyond the usual language books:
Respond to Japanese Noh theater like a native: Kazoku sorrote no seppuku ga yokatta. (“I love the part where the whole family disembowels themselves.”)
Speak to homicidal Parisian taxi drivers in a language they’ll understand: Ou avez-vous appris à conduire? En Italie? (“Where did you learn to drive? Italy?”)
Discuss Italian olive oil with the proper degree of reverence: Un assaggio ti dice che le olive sono maturate di fronte ad una cattedrale. (“One taste tells you the olives grew in full view of the cathedral.”)
Most of the books in the series were written in the 80s and 90s and so are not really up-to-date but a compilation of five of the books — Italian, French, Japanese, German, and Spanish — was updated and published in 2005 as The Wicked Traveller.
(As an aside, WTF?? — the The Wicked Traveler is available really cheap on eBay but shipping is, like, $15. I’m gobsmacked.)