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Ryan buys a patch kit in Greece | Wired Cola

Ryan buys a patch kit in Greece

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I can speak enough Greek to be understood in a bike shop. What follows is a transcript of our Greek conversation.

ME: Do you have "patch kit"?*
CLERK: [Greek I don't understand, but she doesn't understand "patch kit."]
ME: I look. [Literally, βλέπο ("vlepo") which is the verb form "I look", but which I hope implies "I am looking", as it does in the phrase "μόνο βλέπο" ("mono vlepo"), which is "I am just looking," a phrase you can use to drive Greek shopkeepers crazy, since they mainly hear it from English tourists. Greek scholars, probably including my lovely bride, may now giggle.]
[looks around, finds a patch kit]
ME: How much is this?
CLERK: €2
Me: OK! [pays]
SECOND CLERK: [question I don't really understand, but is probably "do you want a bag?"]
Me: No. It is ok. [puts kit in jersey pocket to demonstrate that yes, it's ok]
Me: Thanks, good day!

As you can see, my Greek is amazing, running to a vocabulary of at least two dozen words.

*I said "patch kit" in English; I don't know any bike jargon except the word for bicycle, which is the excellent "ποδιλατό" ("potheelato"; the Greek "δ" is our friend the letter delta (maybe more familiar in its capitalised form, "Δ") but in Greek this is a voiced "th" sound, as at the start of "then," and when you say the letter "Δ" in Greek, you say "thelta."

Greek has several pronunciation traps and adorable diphthongs to catch up Roman alphabet users. So for example the Greek beta ("β" or "Β") is your "v" sound, while a "b" sound is always spelled "μπ", letters which separately give you the "m" and "p" sounds**. The Greek hard "d" is spelled "ντ" and while that "τ" is just a "t", the "ν" is resolutlely not a "v" sound, it's the lowercase form of the "Ν", which is the English "n" sound (the letter "ni," in modern Greek, traditionally mispronounced "nu" by physicists), and which as you can see looks just like an "N" in its capitalized form. Even better, there's a letter that looks very much like a Roman lowercase "n": "η", aka "ita", which is one of the multiple vowel short-i sounding letters in Greek (the others being ι and υ, aka iota and ypsilon (epsilon))***. The capital form of "η" is "Η", just to add one more fun trap.

**Thanks to the very regular but quirky-for-anglos transliterations of the "b" sound and others, I had an amusing moment reading a sports page in Greek some years ago, which mentioned an Formula One racer whose name I could not puzzle out: Τζένσον Μπώτον, or something like that. It was only after I tried to slowly sound out that first diphthong (taf-zeta, or "tz") that I finally discovered it was Jenson Button.

***There are also two different "o"s (ο/Ο and ω/Ω, aka omicron and omega) which are pronounced identically, and a pile of other quirks, notably in the small number of vowel sounds represented by a large number of letters and diphthongs, that lead to a curious quirk of written modern Greek: it is trivial to sound out words (a proper text even includes a syllable-stress accent mark on each word, so if you know the rules, the text transparently gives you the info you need to pronounce the word) but there is no auditory hint from a word as to which of the interchangeable letters should be used for the vowel sounds. As a result, the Greeks consider themselves notoriously bad spellers (none of this is nearly as bad as English, where a written word is not just an unreliable guide to the pronunciation, but in some cases will actively lead you astray, and of course the spelling is vastly more arbitrary. But Greek is amusing for being a one-way text: easy to sound out, but harder to spell).


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