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Carmen and Steve discuss languages, culture and food on French National Day, July 14.
Steve: This evening I have with me my wife Carmen. Hi Carmen.
Steve: And, you know, I want to talk about… First of all, I should say that it’s the 14th of July and so Carmen and I went out for dinner.
Did we have a nice dinner?
Carmen: Very nice.
Steve: Very nice and we even had a glass of champagne, but it wasn’t French champagne it was Spanish sparkling wine.
Carmen: I couldn’t tell the difference.
You know, one thing that’s interesting is, Carmen, both you and I, we speak a number of languages.
What was the first language you spoke in your family?
Steve: Cantonese. And then you went to school, I think a little bit in English and a little bit in Cantonese.
Carmen: No, all in English.
Steve: All in English.
Carmen: English immersion.
Steve: English immersion, but you did go to a school in Chinese at one point.
Carmen: But even English immersion, in the playgrounds it is usually Chinese spoken and I later on went to Chinese school, yes.
Steve: But now you also…and, of course, your mother spoke Spanish.
Did you hear Spanish at home?
Carmen: Very little; once in a while.
She had friends come over to visit and they would chat in Spanish.
We would be outside playing, we weren’t too interested.
Steve: Yet the most recent language that you learned is French because we had very good customers in France and they visited and we traveled around British Columbia.
You were in the back of the car with this lady who spoke no English, day one could you understand what she was saying?
Carmen: Not entirely, but gesture and everything helped.
Steve: Mind you, you had studied a bit of French when we lived in Ottawa, but then by day five you were doing fine.
Carmen: Yes, we started to understand a little bit more of each other.
Steve: When we visit France regularly you have no trouble when we are invited to dinner or you’re socializing with people over there.
Do you worry about whether they understand what you have to say?
Carmen: No, I don’t worry.
Steve: What about when they say things that you don’t understand?
Carmen: Well, I just try and pick a few words that I understand and the rest I don’t care.
Steve: So, on that basis, you speak Cantonese and, of course, Mandarin and then we lived in Japan for nine years and I think your Japanese is pretty fluent.
Or is it sort of specialized for certain things that you’re more interested in?
When we lived in Japan I had to learn some Japanese because nobody else spoke English and if you didn’t speak any Japanese you wouldn’t get anywhere.
Steve: So, in all of your shopping and occasionally at parties, did we have to speak Japanese?
Steve: I guess so.
Carmen: You’d have to use Japanese almost on a daily basis.
Talking to a taxi driver, you take a lot of taxis there.
You have to be able to direct them to where you’re going and you know how the Japanese addressing system is, it’s not easy to find a place.
Steve: It’s nonexistent.
What is there system?
You, basically, have to know a landmark somewhere to direct the taxi driver to and after that you’re just guessing.
Carmen: It’s ah…
Steve: Although, if you give them a map he could figure it out.
Carmen: Well, they divide them into blocks and numbers, right?
But it’s really hard to figure out Japanese addresses.
Steve: Right, so…and Mandarin.
Well, how did you learn Mandarin because you didn’t have Mandarin in Hong Kong?
Carmen: I didn’t really learn it.
I just picked it up here and there listening to people talk that’s all.
Carmen: I’m still not that good at it.
Steve: No, but your Mandarin pronunciation is a lot better than a lot of Cantonese people’s.
Carmen: Well, I have no trouble pronouncing things.
Steve: Why is that?
Carmen: I have more trouble understanding.
Steve: Why is that?
Why is it that…like a lot of Cantonese speakers who went to school in Chinese have trouble speaking Mandarin, their pronunciation is terrible, not terrible, but very typically Cantonese, that you don’t have that strong Cantonese pronunciation, why do you think that is?
Carmen: I’ve been exposed to more languages than the average Cantonese person.
Steve: You know I think that’s right, I think our brains get a little more flexible.
If we only have one language, whether that be Cantonese or English, then the second language we learn we struggle with the differences.
But if we have a lot of different languages we’re a little more flexible.
What is the next language you want to learn?
Carmen: Perhaps learn up my French better and Spanish.
Steve: Yeah, Spanish.
I mean how good is your Spanish?
Carmen: Not very good.
Steve: Not very good.
But we were talking about maybe going to Mexico in the fall and I bet you if you were down there for a few weeks you would start talking to the local shopkeepers and so forth and you would develop.
Carmen: Oh yes, it wouldn’t take long.
But you have interests in music, you have interests in food, travel, I think people who are interested in different cultures their attitude is one that they’re more open to different languages.
Don’t you think that’s your case too?
Steve: When you watch, for example, the food channel, you’re interested in the cooking from different countries and so forth.
I think language is part of just being interested in what’s happening in this world.
Steve: Would you agree?
And then food goes with wine, etc., etc.
Steve: And travel.
Carmen: And then the regional foods are also interesting.
If you go to Spain you get a lot of very fresh seafood and some shellfish you’ve never seen before and then, of course, the spices they use are different.
For example, saffron is a very unique spice used by the Spanish to make their saffron rice.
Carmen: Some other countries use it too, but that’s very typically Spanish.
So when you’re traveling in those areas that’s the kind of thing that’s interesting.
Steve: Yeah, we like to go to Spain.
When we were in Marbella, Malaga, some of those restaurants where you go in and you see the fresh fish just there on the counter and you point to what you want and then they make it the way you want it.
Especially that shell food restaurant in Marbella was delicious.
Carmen: Yes, it was very good.
Steve: They had those…what were they called?
Those razor clams, no, those long…
Carmen: Razor clams.
Steve: Razor clams, yeah, yeah.
I think the other thing too, I guess, is if you are more comfortable in different languages then you don’t feel…I mean when you go to Spain, even though your Spanish is not fluent, at least you don’t feel out of place, you don’t feel stranded.
Carmen: Oh, no, no.
No, I can make myself understood and I can usually understand what they say to me.
It’s just that I haven’t been speaking it regularly, so I’m a little shy at using it, plus a few grammatical mistakes, so you’re no so comfortable that’s all.
Steve: And that generally makes…the fact that you know, in the worst case, you could communicate makes you feel more comfortable in the country don’t you think?
Steve: I mean if we go to a country where we have no clue about the local language you always feel a little more uneasy.
You feel more like a tourist, you feel more separate from the people; whereas, if you can communicate then you feel a little more comfortable.
I do anyway, would you agree with that?
Especially if you go to a place like Japan where English isn’t heard, you do have to speak Japanese.
Everything is written in Japanese, all the stations…
Steve: …train stations, yeah.
Carmen: …train stations is written in Japanese and if…
Steve: The announcements, yeah.
Carmen: If you don’t know the station name then you’re out of luck.
Steve: You could be going for quite a while.
It’s interesting, people who speak English only they kind of think that everybody everywhere is going to speak English.
Sometimes they’re a bit surprised when they go to Japan and find out that most people don’t speak English.
Okay, well we’ve had a short visit here with Carmen.
We’ve just come back from our dinner and now we’re going to go and see what we can find in the way of a little bit of dessert.
What did we have for dinner tonight?
We had some kind of a Brie melt tapenade salad and what was the other course we had?
Carmen: Well that’s really like a sandwich.
Carmen: Open-faced sandwich with Brie cheese and chicken on top.
Steve: And mushrooms.
Carmen: The tapenade, that was very good.
Steve: Well there were mushrooms too.
Carmen: Yes the tapenade.
Steve: There was the olive tapenade and the mushrooms and then the other one was their own version of salad niçoise.
Carmen: With tuna.
Steve: Their tuna was a very sort of almost raw, but seared ahi tuna with salad that had sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
And then the other dish we had was?
Carmen: The sushi roll.
Steve: Oh, that was very good.
We had a sushi roll with a little bit of like the nori, the seaweed…
Carmen: On the outside.
Steve: …was sort of done like tempura.
Carmen: Well, basically, they made a tuna sushi roll with nori on the outside.
Steve: Nori is seaweed.
Carmen: Seaweed on the outside and then they breaded and deep fried the outside of the seaweed.
Steve: But the sushi was still raw on the inside.
Carmen: Yeah, but that was very good.
Steve: Yeah. And then we had that pasta capellini pasta dish…
Carmen: That was very good.
Steve: …with pesto sauce and we had that with our Spanish champagne and I also had another glass of wine, California wine, Zinfandel, so that was a nice dinner.
Carmen: So that was to celebrate Steve’s affiliation with France.
Steve: You know I spent three years in France.
I studied there; it’s a big part of my life.
I mean there’s many countries that have influenced me with their culture, their language, France is one of them.
Japan, obviously, is another one: China, Spain, Sweden.
Yeah, but I have a soft spot in my heart for France, so this is our July the 14th Bastille Day podcast.
Okay, bye for now.