Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Осторожно! Be Careful!

Some time back during the mid-nineties, I woke up on Christmas Morning to find Life's Little Instruction Book in my stocking. I'm that child in the family, the one who needs instructions even after he's fully house-broken and for the most part graduated from college. Learn to listen: Opportunity knocks softly ... Never cut what can be untied ... Don't pee in public.

Yesterday, my sister gave me something that reminded me of that book: an electronic translator that knows 12 languages and something like 400,000 words and phrases. Just push one button and you can learn to say, "Help me!" in Russian. Scroll down a little further and you'll be ready to master, "I'm dizzy." If things look somewhat more dire, try, "I haven't done anything!" And if that doesn't work, go directly to, "I'm calling the police!" If you wish to announce to all and sundry that you are indeed an American, deliver this line with a straight face: "I need an itemized bill for my insurance company." And if you want to show that you are indeed a calmer individual than I am, hit the down arrow once, twice, three times -- make that twenty-nine times in a row -- and then look up to calmly announce, "I've lost my son (daughter)!"

The gift should prove very useful, as it's lighter and more compact than a phrase book and dictionary. It just saddens me that the programmer didn't think to include a Cyrillic version of, "Never cut what can be untied!" Or: "Learn to listen! Opportunity knocks softly!" Because I'd say the quickest way to blend into a foreign country, the quickest way to make people think you are indeed a local, is to act like you're stark raving mad. All you need are a few simple phrases: "Don't major in minor things!" "Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures!" And then everyone will leave you alone.