I'm Crook (really!)

I've got one more quick story for the week, and then I’m headed out of town for the weekend. BLCU organized an optional field trip for us to the province of Inner Mongolia, and spending two nights in a yurt on the Mongolian grasslands is something that everyone should do at least once in their life, or so I’ve been told. One of the lessons from our reading textbook was about this particular excursion, which the school offers every year. It promised us blue skies, white clouds, green grassy plains and herdsmen singing traditional Mongolian folk songs. When we get back, I’ll let you know if they were telling us the truth.

The trip aside, today’s story is about languages. More specifically, it’s about English and the diversity within the language. My friend Roberta, an Italian who sits next to me in class, asked me if I would understand her if she said “I’m crook.” I told her no. You can say “I’m a crook” or “I’m crooked” (though who would ever say either?), but “I’m crook” doesn’t really mean anything to me.

Roberta told me that her Australian friend had just asked her if she was crook. She learned that she was. Apparently in Australia the phrase can be used in place of “I’m sick.” Interesting, I thought. I replied that Americans just say “I’m sick.” (I also told her that in America, if you say “you’re sick”, it can be a complement, an insult or nothing more than a commentary on the state of the person’s health. Isn’t language interesting?)

Tonight I had an annoying cough (that I unsuccessfully tried to cure with some hot and sour noodles), and Roberta asked me if I was crook. I told her I was a little crook. . . . but then I wondered, can you can say that? She asked her Aussie friend, who informed her that you can be a “little crook,” plain “crook” or “real crook”, depending on the severity of your ailment.

You will appreciate the story more if I give you a little background on Roberta. She is from a small town near Piacenza, and last year she spent 10 months studying in Australia. Her English is excellent, and if she didn’t speak Italian so much, she could pass herself off as Australian or British. In fact, that’s what she’s doing. She came to Beijing with plans to study until February and wanted to teach English while she was here to make some money. The English schools here want native speakers as teachers, which could have been a roadblock, but she told the school where she interviewed that she was Australian. When they asked why she had an Italian passport, she told them that her father was Italian (which is true). It worked. She’s now teaching a couple of classes, and everyone seems to be pleased with the arrangement.

So to sum up today’s story: an American (me) got a lesson in English from an Italian who is pretending to be an Australian. . . . . . . Who would have guessed?

Have a great weekend.