August 16, 2010 | Hindi

Gender Complications and an Italian Mishap

I learn more about Hindi as I (it seems) unlearn Italian.

I have continued to read in my Teach Yourself Hindi book, though I confess I am not very far along.

The latest: every Hindi noun is either masculine or feminine. I hadn’t realized that yet from my Pimsleur lessons. I think the reason I hadn’t realized it is that Hindi apparently has no definite articles, so I haven’t had to match the nouns up with too many things reflecting gender.

Some Words I Am Learning

Pigeon, Supervising My Studies

Even though (as I have also just learned) Hindi adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify, I haven’t encountered that many adjectives yet. After all, you have to learn how to say “man,” “woman,” “boy,” and “girl,” before you worry about how to say that they are “happy,” “tall,” “smart,” “addled,” “recalcitrant,” etc. So the gender thing really has not come up until now.

I went for a run today in Central Park. It did not go well; I had to stop around the northern end of the reservoir, less than halfway through the run. I decided to walk the rest of the way home.

In front of the Boathouse (for non-New Yorkers, this is a famous Central Park restaurant near East 72nd Street), I ran into what appeared to be a rather large family—tourists—looking around with puzzled expressions on their faces. 

Hoping for a language opportunity, I stopped and asked, “Can I help you?”

One said, hesitantly, “Yes. A photo.” 

I replied, “Sure, I’d be glad to take a picture.”

As I reached for the camera, the apparent father, maybe around 60, started edging away from me with it. This confused me. Then the son, who looked around 25, put his arm around me.

I figured out what was going on. “But why do you want a picture with me?” I asked.

More hesitation. “Because, “ said the son in accented English, “you are very beautiful.”

Now who was I to argue with such a delightful family of tourists? 

So I put my arm around him and a picture was taken. Then the father decided he wanted a picture of himself with me, so I smiled brightly for that one as well. The female members of the family laughed indulgently.

I thought I heard Italian, so I asked (in Italian), “Are you Italian?” (Or at least that was what I was trying to say. Later it occurred to me that because of a verb form error, I had mistakenly said, “Are we Italian?”) Yes, they said. I told them I spoke a little Italian, and a brief discussion in their native language ensued.

They wanted to exit the park. I told them, “I’m not sure you can get out here,” gesturing to a path just east of us. At least I intended to say that. What I really said, I realized later, was, “I’m not sure they can get out here.”

I seem to have forgotten quite a few verb forms. Through the miracle that is human communication, however, they continued to understand me.

I guess the compliment and the sudden onslaught of Italian were too much for my brain to manage simultaneously, because I then stupidly told them they could exit the park if they just continued a little north. When I was almost home, I realized my mistake.

Poor family. They had been about two inches from the 72nd Street exit, which was just south of us and which I happen to know extremely well, and I still somehow managed to send them in exactly the wrong direction—and up a steep hill, too!

Oops. Sorry, nice Italian family.

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