Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ant and Flea

Ah, the joys of chip and pin. Or flea and code confidentiel, as the French like to call it. As if to add insult to injury at this stressful time of year, not only are the shops full to bursting (surely a good sign in a recession?), but heavy electronic traffic means that the card machines take longer to process a transaction, thus leading to so much tsk-ing from customers that it sounds like a small delegation of Kalahari tribesmen. I used to work for A Large French National Airline, some years ago, and one year the annual sales conference was entirely given over to the advent of "le ticketless" - or, as London residents know it, the Oyster Card. An enthusiastic and almost incomprehensible speech in rough franglais was given by a fervent IT nerd flown over from Charles de Gaulle airport, during the course of which it transpired that they hadn't bothered to look up what the English words for "chip and pin" and "electronic chip reader" were. Imagine a room full of French and English salespeople, half of whom can't understand what their compatriot is saying, because his English is appalling but, well, English, and half of whom can't understand what the French guy is saying because his vocabulary is deeply odd. After telling us how an ant would be installed at every checkin desk, he went on to explain that you would simply have a flea in your wallet. The flea would be updated by the sales staff, and then in order to board the plane you would pass another ant. You would show the ant your wallet (at which point all the English sales staff nudged each other and muttered "Let the ant see the wallet, mate"). Then in a frenzy of sweaty specialist excitement (his) and confused silence (ours) he sat down. We were left none the wiser except that you had something in your wallet that you showed to something else. At which point another Big Boy from Paris stood up and said, and here I transcribe as it was spoken, "Euh, many thank to my esteem coll├Ęgue. His words 'ave given us many food for thought. Let us all give him the clap."

12 comments:

Eveningson said...

ALFNA.. Yes I do believe that I have flown that airline. I cannot quite remember the circumstances of course, it being so long ago.

I do believe that there was an event of some sort, perhaps one involving balloons, chickens and several kilos of black cats. At any rate, this flight took place in my younger days and at a time when vast quantities of alcohol were easily available on flying machines (before your time dear). One had simply to lift one finger and voila as one would say on said ALFNA, one was soon happy. Very happy. This was most surprising as I was cleverly manacled at the time. On my way home as it were.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Well hello from one (partly) Swiss to another. Alcohol was free-flowing in my day, and I remember once having my (unwisely chossen) Opinel picnic knife confiscated at checkin and then handed to me by the pilot later on, on the actual flight, asking me if as a staff passenger I could hand it in to the ground staff ... Tchuh, security issues. I rarely had any truck with chickens, black cats or balloons, but sometimes when I can't sleep I find myself remembering the exact dimensions in cm of a standard cello...

Steve said...

Le fry et needle, eh? I love it when technology gets lost in translation. I bet the fellow in question had been on the receiving end of the clap before. The slow clap I should think.

JRSM said...

Wonderful stuff!

Lucy Fishwife said...

Steve - my favourite aspect of the whole flea 'n' ant fiasco was overhearing my French colleagues tryimng to explain to travel agents how it worked and being totally amazed that someone would find it insulting to be told their wallet was full of fleas..

JRSM - Cheers hon! I did have a laugh at good old AF; sadly nothing in the travel biz is ever as good fun as the bookselling industry. I once got asked for a copy of "The Little Tart, by Donna Friend"...

Brother Tobias said...

I enjoyed this! (A classic case for a little walk-through role-playing rather than a lot of talk).

But I wish I hadn't got side-tracked by the relative merits of 'tsk tsk' and 'tut tut'. Merriam Webster claims the former dates from 1943 and is pronounced 'tisk tisk', which must be rubbish (it reminds me an erstwhile boyfriend of my sister's who laughed as if he'd read how in a book; 'Ha ha ha'.

'Tut' apparently dates from the C15th, but is an equally inadequate attempt to spell the ingressive airstream mechanism of an alveolaric click (now there's a phrase I hadn't expected to use today).

Lucy Fishwife said...

I think it's phonetically represented by an upside down question mark with no dot, but I may be confusing it with the glottal Ndebele cluck noise. Used to share a flat with a guy from Zimbabwe whose surname had one, and he got so fed up explaining how to pronounce it that he renamed himself Cube. I also used to study with a girl who actually said "Achoo" when she sneezed...

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oooh this cheered me up.

My German grandmother used to translate lots of things literally and confuse us all but I can't think of any examples. I've sat here and puzzled about it but my mind is blank.

I didn't know you were part Swiss. Which bit?

Lucy Fishwife said...

Also my grandmother (maternal)! Mr Fishwife has a whole schtick he does about my family (his are resolutely geordie) who, at mealtimes, drift into French (which I can do) and German (which I can't) because my grandmother can't maintain a train of thought in just one language. The only German I know is "The rage of hell boils in my heart" and "This portrait is bewitchingly fair" due to early Mozart-exposure...

ScentScelf said...

Ah, much clapping for this post!!!

...you've really put a flea in my ear...

:)

Perfumeshrine said...

LOL! This is as hilariously Babel-esque as it must have been supremely annoying and frustraring when it actually happened. What can one say? Knowing another language well is priceless. No need for wallet.

Lucy Fishwife said...

SS - ...and ants in your pants?

PS - Part of the joy of working for a foreign company is the bizarre multilingual shorthand you end up employing. "A swift half" (of beer, after work) was always referred to as a "vite demi"...