Oh boy! Have I thought that I am fluent and cool when speaking to Slovenes! I was so proud of myself when they kept telling me how good my Slovene is. For over a year I haven´t spoken to a Slovenian person in another language than Slovenian. I knew I wasn´t perfect and still had a long way to go, but I was writing essays in Slovenian and had all of my classes in that language, so one can guess that my confidence was high. One could also guess that this article will not be about my Slovenian superpowers. Quite on contrary. I am looking forward to tell you about one of the biggest turn-offs which I have shown to some dear Slovenian native speakers.
The phrase »ne da se« seems so innocent at first. When you say »v tem vremenu se res ne da iti v gore«, the situation is clear and understandable. It is impossible to go to the mountains in this weather. Okay. When learning this phrase, I was pleased, since we had the same one in my native language.
However… »Danes se mi ne da iti v gore«. Should have the same meaning, right?
Wrong, you guessed it.
If you say »ne da se mi«, you are basically saying to the Slovenes that you are not willing to do something, that you are either not in the mood or too lazy to do the thing.
Needless to say, I have found out about it a bit too late.
So at first, I was writing an e-mail to my professor. In a very formal way (as you do with academic authorities) I have tried to explain to him that I need to write my exam in a later term because of my other obligations. So it looked something like this:
Spoštovani izred. Prof. XY,
Zelo se opravičujem, ampak zaradi drugih študijnih obveznosti se mi ne bo dalo priti na prvi termin izpita. A bi lahko prišla na drugi termin?
Že vnaprej se Vam zahvaljujem za odgovor in razumjevanje in lepo pozdravljam.
How sweet of me! I have basically written to him:
Dear Mr. Professor,
I am really sorry but I don´t feel like coming to the first term of the exam because of my other obligations. Could I come to the second examination term?
Thank you very much for understanding and for your answer.
He wasn´t too pleased but have still allowed me to attend the second term, so I haven´t got the hint.
The other time I have apologized to my classmate that I wasn´t »able« (nise mi dalo) or- in fact –willing to work on our project because I was sick. She was angry, I had no clue what has happened. Why are all Slovenes so short tempered?
And then finally I was saved. One day my boyfriend has rushed from work to see me. I was surprised that he had finished so early because I have made some other plans before the evening. You already know what followed – »ne da se mi prej«, I don´t feel like meeting you earlier. And one argument later I felt absolutely confused. Is this some weird Slovenian manner, getting pissed off for no reason?
Way later I was told what »ne da se mi« really means. At first I felt relieved, thinking »So that´s why…!«. Then I froze for a second and started to think about all the moments when I have used the phrase in a wrong way. I guess I turned pale white and disconnected myself from the humanity for the following few minutes.
What could have been done differently to prevent this situation? I have no clue. Personally I would not feel like telling a foreigner who is speaking my native language that the rude thing he just said was probably not what he meant to say. No way. I would think this person was an asshole. Therefore, unfortunately, the rare moments of not fitting into a new language community seem to be a MUST for the most of us foreigners, however hard we are trying to assimilate.
You will have misunderstandings, you may piss some people off and even lose some good chances. But think positively. You may have said that stupid thing in the national TV in front of the whole nation. Or have written that in an official letter to the prime minister of the country. Or in a not-so-appropriate response to your potential employer, who has just offered you the job with the monthly 3000€ payment. None of these have happened? So you still will be able to laugh about it one day. Do that. It is the only way how to survive the awkward moments of being a clueless foreigner.