Saturday, September 14, 2013

Good morning. How are you? Fine, thank you.

Cameroon is a bilingual country.  Supposedly.  Rumor is Paul Biya (the president since forever) added that Cameroonians, themselves, are not bilingual when asked about his own lack of English.  They teach some English pretty much everywhere, though it seems to never get beyond the introductive stuff.  I probably shouldn't talk much since I technically have a degree saying I speak Italian and the only thing left of that is a large amount of profanity.  All the same, I have only ever seem to have one conversation in English:

"Good morning."

"How are you?"

"Fine, thank you."

You cannot deviate from the script.  If I just say "morning", I've broken the rule and get to watch poor children's minds snap.  That probably says more about their lack of creativity than poor English skills, but it is painful.  (As to creativity, hand any kid crayons and tell them "Draw whatever you want!" and they will give you the Cameroonian flag.  It's patriotism bordering on fascism.) 

The Cameroonians that do speak English, speak what we might call Special English.  It is sort of a lowest common denominator version.  It is probably more about speaking slowly and clearly, but I hate it and can't bring myself to use it.  It is to the point that I'll switch to French even in an Anglophone area (that's right, I make people deal with my bad French rather than deal with their bad English; I'm a dick).  Occasionally Peace Corps Volunteers will drop into this Special English out of habit and I'm forced to hold back smacking them.  Honestly it sounds like how you'd speak to a child.  Or someone you are patronizing, hence the desire to smack.

I bring all this up because I ran into the weirdest guy today.  In the same way that I ignore people calling me "Le Blanc" or "Nasaara", I sort of just respond with the "How are you?" or "Goodmorning" and keep walking to the English routine (if you don't say my name, I don't stop).  This guy gave me a "What's up?" and a "Cool."  I can't recall hearing that even in English-speaking areas; in Mbakaou it was world-shattering.  He spoke English as if he had been to America.  Not even that silly Brit version of the language you occasionally run into!  Apparently he learned in Nigeria "from the streets".  I'm not super convinced he understood all of my own English, but I was still impressed.  The only weird part was that he sounded like he was a decade or two behind.  I felt like I was watching some film from my childhood.  Kept thinking of Marty McFly.  Still, even watching Cameroonian news in English isn't as easy as talking to my new friend, Marty.  It was heavy.