The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Posts tagged “language

Why Google Translate isn’t the Best Romanian Tutor

I was reminded today of a funny scenario that happened about 4 or 5 months ago.  We had just applied for our international health insurance, and the company was mailing us the documents via “Fan Courier,” a private delivery service that’s a little more dependable than the national mail service.

Because we spoke very little Romanian at the time (now we speak “little” but back then it was “very little”), there was a lot of confusion in the whole process.  I won’t go through all the details, but after accidentally rejecting the package a few times, finally I got a text message from a mysterious number that said something like, “sunt fan courier.”

At the time, I understood enough Romanian to know that “sunt” meant “i am,” but I didn’t know of anything called “fan courier,” so the whole message remained a mystery.  Thankfully, however, I had Google Translate.  So I typed it in, pressed “enter,” and waited for the result, which was….

“I am secret admirer.”

“Oh, crap,” I thought, “someone must have gotten my phone number off one of our tracts while we did evangelism, and now they’re spamming me with secret love messages.”

Using my gift of “duh-scernment,” I chose not to respond, and the next day while leaving the apartment I ran into the delivery guy, who worked for Fan Courier, I got the package, and then I realized, when I saw the logo on his van, that apparently not only did I not know what “fan courier” was, but neither did Google.

Yes, it’s true.  There is one thing Google doesn’t know.

Well, didn’t know.  Now that I’ve published this post, their webcrawlers have already indexed it, read it, and updated Google Translate accordingly.

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“No, I don’t speak English. I live in Romania. I speak Romanian.”

We finally got all our forms turned into Immigration for Jessie and I to get our Visas!  It was a long process, but we’re done for now.  Next step is to get the kids theirs, since they all seem fond of staying here with us and all.

So yesterday, bright and early in the morning, we went to turn in some final forms, just as the office was opening up, hoping to catch them before it got packed.

We approached the only open window and I asked the woman, in Romanian, “Do you speak English?”

The usual response when you ask this of anyone under 40 in Bucharest, especially at Immigration, is, “Yes, of course,” accompanied by a look of gentle disdain, as if they were insulted that you would even imply they may not understand how to speak English.

Yesterday’s answer was funnier.

“No, I don’t speak English.  I live in Romania.  I speak Romanian,” she told me curtly.  I couldn’t tell if she was trying to be funny or if she was crabby or if she was just telling me facts.

“OK,” I told her in Romanian, “It’s not a problem.  I speak a little Romanian, but not very well.”

“I speak it very well,” she interrupted.  “You’re in Romania now.  We speak Romanian here. What do you need?”

From there, I somehow got myself understood, turned in the final forms, and left satisfied that the first and hardest portion of our Visas was now complete.


Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.

Shortly after our adventure with plumbing, we had another issue with the electricity in our apartment, but this time it was self-inflicted.  While Ben and I were at another visa meeting, Jessie decided to get some cleaning done.  She moved from one room to the next, and when she got to our bedroom, she took the sheets off the bed, grabbed a new sheet to put on, and whipped it through the air in the hopes of landing it nicely on top of the mattress.

Well, above our bed, hanging rather precariously from bare wires, is a ceiling light which, as Jessie whipped the sheet through the air, was just barely tapped by the sheet.  Suddenly the lights went out and a car alarm sounded outside.

Due to the fact that a car alarm went off at the same time, we weren’t sure if the loss of power was actually caused by the sheet touching the light fixture or if it was a bigger issue.

Since I was gone in a meeting, Jessie ran around the apartment and did a quick catalog of what was going on, which outlets worked and which didn’t, which lights worked and which didn’t, and sent me a text message letting me know what had happened.

When I got back, we looked all over for a breaker box, because it seemed like an issue with a circuit breaker just getting flipped when Jessie snapped the sheet over the mattress.  The closest thing we found was in the hallway and securely locked closed. We tried all our keys, but none worked.  Then I tried knocking on our neighbors’ doors, but no one was home.  Finally, I grabbed a screwdriver and tried prying the door open, but that only succeeded in bending the metal frame.  Not so successful.

With no way to get at the breaker box, we decided to go to the mall to buy some extension chords, and then in the morning, I would call either our landlord, who speaks no English and was currently on vacation in Bulgaria so would probably be very little help, or I would call one of our friends we’ve met in the city.  This problem was proving too big for us.

Alright, so I headed to the mall for extension chords and, outside our apartment, sitting on a bench with the other old ladies who know everything about everyone in our building, was Adela, my favorite neighbor who has rescued us time and time again from the idiosyncrasies of living in Bucharest.  She speaks no English, and our Romanian is terrible, but she’s very patient and she seems to enjoy helping us poor foreigners out.

So I walked to Adela and began probably the most awkward conversation of her life.  Here is the translated version:

Me: “Adela, I have a question.”

Adela: “Alright…”

Me: “In our apartment, we don’t have light.”

Adela: “OK…”

Me: “Is everything building no light?”

Adela: quizzical look

Me: “Every apartment no light?”

Adela: “No”

Me: “Our apartment no light.”

Adela: “Nothing?”

Me: “Some.”  And this is where I started motioning wildly.  “Here, light! There, no light!  Why?  I don’t know.”

Adela: “I don’t understand.”

Me, repeating, this time with even more exaggerated hand motions, “Here, light!  There, no light!  Why?  I don’t know.”  And then, to make sure I would enlist her help, I pitifully added, “And Marian [our landlord] in Bulgaria.”

Adela: “Marian in Bulgaria.  Aaaah…”  Then she made a weird wavy motion with her hand and asked, “[A word I don’t know] works?”

Me: “I don’t know [said word I don’t know].”

Adela, repeating the same weird wavy motion: “Works?”

At this time I took a chance and assumed she was asking if the outlets were working.

Me, making a similar wavy motion to represent the outlets, but slightly adjusting it for my tastes: “Here, it works.  There, it doesn’t work.”

Adela: “I understand.”  Then she asked something about “hours” that I didn’t understand

Me: “I don’t understand.”

Adela: “How many hours no light?”

Me: “From morning.”

Adela, with a slightly concerned look: “And mother and kids are at home?”

Me: “Yes.”

Adela, her face lighting up with a new mission: “OK.  Five minutes.”

Then she disappeared and I waited outside by the old women.  Five minutes later, she came back and said, “Come on, hurry!  Go upstairs!”

Adela had found an English-speaking man in our building who came by and showed us where the breaker box was (not where we had thought).  He flipped a breaker, we had electricity again, and we were once again grateful for old ladies willing to help us figure out life in Bucharest.

We did a lot of international student ministry in the States, and if I believed in Karma, I’d say that was a good thing, because being on the mission field, we’re now the international students.  We’re the ones who don’t understand much, can’t get around without help, can’t communicate clearly, and keep doing and saying awkward things that don’t make much sense.  Every day is an adventure.

I remember one student from Saudi Arabia who lived with us.  His first day in America, he didn’t know anything about life in the United States and didn’t speak any English, so when the taxi dropped him off, he held a cell phone to my face: “You talk.  Friend.  Speak English you.”  It was his friend from Chicago who spoke more English than he did.  He introduced our new guest and we welcomed him into our home.  We had to teach him about using the toilet properly, closing the shower curtain, riding the busses, staying away from the bad neighborhoods, everything.

Pretty similar for us here.


I’m Mad at Romanian

This is probably not a good way to begin a blog about our missionary journey to Romania, but I gotta vent a little bit.  I’m mad at the Romanian language right now.

You know when you’re supposed to be doing something but you don’t do it, and then you wait even longer and longer before doing it, so eventually you feel really guilty for not doing it, and then you get mad at the thing itself for even existing because if it didn’t exist you wouldn’t have to feel guilty for not doing it?  Well that’s how I feel about the Romanian language right now.

We were doing very good about studying Romanian on a regular basis, systematically working through lessons, listening to music and audiobooks, watching movies in Romanian, and then I just got really busy about 2 weeks ago and haven’t even looked at Romanian since.  Now it’s been a while since I’ve studied it, and I can hear its mocking voice tormenting me for being a slacker, and I despise the language itself for not having the decency to just magically learn itself.

Just to show the language how much I despise it for its rudeness, I’m refusing to learn it.  How dare a language mock me and make me feel guilty for not spending time with it.  I will teach it a lesson by giving it the silent treatment.   See how you feel about that, Romanian.  Let’s see who misses who when you’re all alone and there’s no one studying you.

English doesn’t make me feel guilty.  English never mocks me or calls me a slacker.  English treats me good…

Welcome to the emotional ups and downs of preparing to leave for overseas work.