In her quest to find some English-speaking playmates on our French holiday, Laura has turned us all into licence plate spotters. Learning the country abbreviations on foreign cars is certainly improving her knowledge of European geography and languages. While recognising a car labelled I is Italian is pretty intuitive, identifying a German car from a D or a Swiss from CH is rather more of a challenge.
Until now, whenever we’ve been abroad on holiday, she’s bonded happily with children of any nationality, whatever language they spoke. Aged 3, she spent a happy afternoon playing with a French-speaking Swiss girl on a boat in a Greek harbour. The same year, she received her first kiss was from an adoring Greek boy in Athens, transfixed by her blonde hair and blue eyes. She had a memorable afternoon in a Greek playground with a huge von-Trapp like German-speaking family, ranging in age from about 12 to 2. In their contest to see who could stay the longest on the roundabout, Laura represented the UK admirably – she was joint winner with the 12 year old.
But now she is anxious about not being understood. Sadly, she’s just reached the age at which children on longer absorb a foreign language by osmosis. From now on, if she wants to learn another tongue, she’ll have to work at it. I hope her early friendships with foreigners will persuade her that the hard graft is worthwhile.
In the meantime, learning each country’s name in its own language is a good starting point.
While perusing the car park in La Charite sur Loire, I’m reminded of another interesting difference in languages: the names of car models. It’s hardly an original observation – we all know the urban myth of the new car launched under the brand name of Nova. To its American designers, it sounded like a classic brand in the making, with intimations of novelty, newness and being bang on trend – until the Spanish market rejected it as meaning simply “it doesn’t go”. Not a great strapline for a motor car.
The battered silver car now parked adjacent to our van looks as if it won’t go, but it’s actually branded a “Manager”. This might sound prestigious to the French ear, but to me it just sounds daft – talk about damning with faint praise! I speculate as to whether it’s a mid-range car, the poshest model being the President or Chief Executive. The luxury version would be the Commodity Trader or Banker, while lower down comes the Clerk (make that a Senior Clerk if it’s got air-con). And at entry-level for the first-time car-buyer, there’s always the cheap and economical Tea Lady.
But who am I to criticise? If I dared, I could have a sticker on the back of our camper van saying “My other car is a Ka.” The Ford Ka. That’s got to be the worst named car in the world. Now there’s an argument for Esperanto if ever I heard one.