The time before last I was in Wales, I was in a pub with a group of friends when we got into a weird and unpleasant conversation with a “poet” (= stoner). He was trying to either cadge more dope or share what he had, and we weren’t into that. My friends looked away and melted off to the bar, and somehow it was me in the conversation without a lot of back up. Somehow the guy thought me standoffish and in much of the ensuing nattering before I parked him on someone else, I got roundly upbraided for being an evil Englishman who hates the Welsh and should F off home.
The irony of having such an attitude landed on me was a little strange. I’ve spent not insignificant amounts of time in conversations with fellow evil Englishmen defending the Welsh from the sort of person who believes they only speak Welsh to spite him. I have a languages degree, ferchrissake, of course I value linguistic diversity. I’ve spent months at a time with the Welsh national anthem stuck on the brain. ((of all the words in Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, “enwogion” has got to be my favourite. enwogion o fri = men of renown, but Google Translate has enwogion by itself as “celebrities”))
It’s not the first time I’ve been confused with those other, evil Englishmen on sojourns into the mountains and valleys. When I went to help the pretty much doomed Lib Dem effort at the Ogmore by-election in 2002, I had my only experience of campaigning against Plaid Cymru. Out on a doorstep Plaid campaigners pointed out a sign on a house that read “Cartref” and said that if I didn’t know what that meant, I had no business being in Wales. I didn’t then. I do now. It’s the Welsh for “home”.
Good middle-class culturally aware people, when travelling, make the effort to learn a few phrases, and how to pronounce place names. In about a week on Cyprus, I just about got my head around the Greek alphabet, ((now all but forgotten again)) and tried out “Kalimera” on the few days I was awake early enough. In Rome, I got up to “espresso macchiato per favore” and in Prague, it was “pivo, prosím.” I get a bit further in French and German, what with my degree in modern languages ‘n’all, but it’s the tenet of all travellers that if you make just a token effort to communicate in any other way than by shouting English, you get a lot further.
So how about applying the same principle to our trips to Wales? Should we learn half a dozen judiciously placed words and phrases, and using them in conversations with shop and bar people.
Seidr / Cwrw / coffi / te / dŵr
(cider / beer / coffee / tea / water) ((I once heard a story about the importance of accents: dŵr means water but dwr means idiot. People didn’t like driving vans that had “Welsh Idiot” written on them. Google Translate suggests this may not be true. ))
Bara / Llefrith
(bread / milk)
Araf / heddlu / dynion / tacsi / ffôn
(slow / police / gentlemen / taxi / phone)
Mynedd / afon / dyffryn / llyn / rheilffordd
(mountain / river / valley / lake / railway)
Is that worth doing or just hopelessly patronising? Somehow, trying that in Barmouth and Porthmadog, (( hi de hi campers! )) I feel a whole lot more stupid than I ever have in Larnacka or Prague. What do you think?