Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Importance of Language

Today, I visited the currency exchange to trade for some Iraqi dinars. While you can generally use US dollars--and indeed for some goods and services such as hotel rent, that is the only currency that they will accept--many goods are priced in dinars. I had heard that the dinar had gotten stronger--that instead of trading at 1420 dinars to 1 USD, it was now something like 1350 dinars to 1 USD. When I walked into a trading office on Al-Sadoon Street, however, I found that the rate was now 1460 to 1 USD. When the man handed me my change, I noticed that he was 10,000 dinars short. I’m not sure if he was trying to rip me off, or if he had trouble with the math (as I have said before, I have noticed a lot of trouble with math here--and the mistakes are not always in the stores’ favor), but I explained the error to him using a calculator. When he handed me the correct currency, he asked if this was good. I replied, "Zorbash," meaning very good. But "Zorbash" does not mean very good in Arabic--it means very good in Kurdish. He didn’t seem to mind, but I must keep the languages straight.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Upon assignment to the FRG in the late ’80s, I began learning German. I already spoke passable Russian, and for quite some time, my brain would operate in English or "foreign." Mixing in Russian vocabulary with my attemts at German communication was a *very* unpopular mistake.

In Italy, I asked the waiter, "Il conto, por favore," to which he said, "Signore, I would be glad to sing you a song, but if you would like the bill, it’s il conte." Read that book in your pocket more carefully!

Mr. Alt,
The Arabic word you needed was muntaz, with a long "U".

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