February 02, 2006

Disconnected thoughts…again

Driving etiquette
As I was driving to work this morning, slaloming through between the buses, slow moving cars and stopped vehicles in the shoulder to make up for a late departure from my house, I came upon the follow radio show:

“Driver etiquette is very important, especially here in Kinshasa. When one gets on a private bus, it is important to pay the standard set price. Even if you are in a bit of a rush, you should not overpass car with anger. It is not appropriate to shout wildly and gesticulate when overtaking a car. It is not appropriate to throw items on the moving car. It is not appropriate to stop suddenly in the middle of the road; one should drive on the shoulder and then stop--this is a message from the Ministry of Transport”

In All Cases, Really!
Even though Congolese people speak French as well as any Frenchperson, there are little idiosyncracies of language such as saying nonante and septante instead of quatre-vingt dix and soixante-dix (from the Belgian counting system). They will speckle their lingala with well-placed nuggets of French words, leaving me with just enough to pick out the subject matter at hand. At times, I will answer and join in their conversation in French, leaving them speechless and wondering if I secretly understand lingala.

But my favorite stylistic expressions are “En tout cas” and “vraiment”. These seemingly normal French phrases take a life of their own when spoken in Congo. “En tout cas” translates roughly to “in all cases” and “vraiment” to “really”.

A: “Life is really hard right now”
B: “Yes, we have a badly run country” [awkward pause] “En tout cas…”

“En tout cas” here signals the end of the subject, as in, “yes, it’s sad and there’s nothing to do about it, let’s reflect on that for a minute”. Usually, the use of the phrase is followed by both people lowering their eyes and looking a little pious.

A: “I don’t know what’s going on but it’s really hard to find good tomatoes nowadays”
B: “Vraiment!”

“Vraiment” is used to acquiesce the statement made by A. In all cases (hehe), it should be pronounced with a rolling R as in “vrrraiment!” and the emphasis should be placed at the end so that you can really feel the exclamation point at the end.

The Fanthom Driver
Every once in a while, you’ll be driving along a bend, staring at the neighboring car, and seeing…no driver! The first few months, it always gave me a start, and I would shudder in my seat thinking the car was somehow driving itself, a fanthom driver staring right through me.

It turns out that about 10 or 20% of the car in Congo are from Dubai, and the steering wheel is placed on the other side of the car; the driver thus being where I would expect the passenger to be.

En tout cas…


Magali said...

They say the same things in the Ivory Coast!
Another thing they say is "On dit quoi" when they answer the phone and Yaco ("poor you") when anything bad happens.

Ammo said...

I hope you're applying those driving lessons :)

Anonymous said...

"en tous cas" the best way about le lexique kinois or simply kinoiserie is to follow this link.

TheMalau said...

For having driven in Kinshasa, that driving etiquette sounds a bit more like wishful thinking :)

As for the "Kinshasims" or "Kinoiseries" that you point out, that is sooooo true. And the funny thing is that it is so much in our speech that we don't even realize that we say that... I mean I don't... En tout cas :)

LX said...

Vrrrraiment! must be the most comonly used word in West Africa! It certainly was the first French word I learnt while living in Mali :) and it was used in exactly the same context as you are describing.

You've got a fab blog, keep it up!

Elizabeth said...

Ah, in Afghanistan they also used to have a two-sided driving system but somehow they've managed to get many right-side drive cars off the road.

I used to find the African French much easier to understand than that of French people... however I didn't know they had proper words for "ninety" and "seventy", which is a real advancement of the French 20-based system. Cool.