Our Ang Moh friends find it hard to understand us sometimes, and it suits us just fine. It suits them fine too. In fact, this status quo ante bellum thingie works well for everyone.
If something stuffs up, the Ang Moh can just say they find it hard to understand us, and leave it at that. We stuff something up, we say they don’t understand us, and everyone leaves it as is. Get it? No? Me neither. Hard to understand lah, we all.
One of our Ang Moh friends recently commented that Singaporeans had trouble understanding each other, and it wasn’t just an Ang Moh vs Singaporean thing. Apparently, according to him, we’re out there misunderstanding and undermining each other because of our lack of a common effective language.
Take for instance the petrol kiosk cashier auntie whom I see once every ten days because I can’t afford to buy a hybrid car to save the environment. I’m in a ten-long queue, and she asks every one of the nine customers in front of me the same question, and they still all go “har?”
The question being: “Good evening sir/ma’am, any pumm?”
It throws me off every time, and it still takes me a while to understand that she’s asking, “good evening, did you purchase any petrol with the rest of your purchases, sir/madam, and if so, which pump did you dispense the petrol from?”
So, if you were having a humdrum day, doing humdrum things like filling up your petrol tank, and you walked into the kiosk/grocery store, you’d hear the following:
“BING BONG (irritating door chime)…. good evening sir, any pumm?… har?… orh… pump five…”
Sometimes there are variations:
“BING BONG…. good evening sir, any pumm? har? Orh. No pumm. I looking for lollipop. You got lollipop? No. Lollipop no have, got Chupa Chup. Har? No lollipop? Yah, don’t have…. BING BONG”.
I swear that really happened.
More importantly, add up the collective time taken to go “har?”, and you’ve lost valuable productive hours. And add to that the time taken up by the kiosk cashier auntie trying to sell you something that’s “on ploe mow shun”:
Petrol Kiosk Auntie: Together with pumm?
Me: Yes, together with pumm, and it’s pumm five
PKA: Any Burnetts for you? On ploe moe shun only twenty five dollar after discount?
Me: Any what?
Me: Who are the Burnetts?
PKA: Burnetts, Burnetts.
Me: Um… Yah, I dunno any Burnetts.
PKA: Burnetts! The nets make by the Burke!
Me: Make by the Burke?
PKA: Burnetts you never eat before? Good for the saw troke!
Me: Um, how much is my petrol?
PKA: You should eat the Burnetts ah, your skin not so good also. Try lah, eat the Burnetts….
Me: No thank you
PKA: So, only pumm ah?
I bought the papers this morning and saw on the front page that some pharmaceutical company was going to build a $1b “plant in Tuas using living cells”, and I thought, oh wow, and opened the paper in a hurry to read about the amazing biotechnological-construction-breakthrough thingie that would finally allow us to thumb our Singaporean noses at sand and granite bans.
So apparently the building’s not going to be made from or with the help of living cells. Dang. Would’ve been really something if it were. And it would’ve been almost as good as that headline in WW2: “British push bottles up German rear“.