The language that tops as the most spoken language in the world is English, followed closely by the languages spoken in two of the most populous countries in the world- China and India. Considering this, conversation, expression, communication, discussion, consultation, observation, query etc etc should not be difficult for anyone knowing basic language skills. That we would be challenged by the language we learned since kindergarten was unthinkable and when it happened it didn’t exactly shock us but yes, 20 years on it has the ability to make us grin.
It was Hari Raya, a much looked forward long weekend in Malaysia. The hubby and I along with some friends were planning to explore Taman Negara- the National Park a few hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. Not owning any tents between us, we needed to rent them and consulted the google of those days- the Yellow Pages and started calling stores renting camping gear.
The first call- “hello I would like to rent a tent” was answered with “what lah! no rent lah” and the phone was disconnected. Simply! In the second call we explained better or so we thought- “hello, we are going to Taman Negara and can we rent a tent?”, which was followed by “can not rent lah, cannot lah” and were disconnected again. Maybe in the sixth or seventh call we were rewarded with a sliver of hope- an understanding, when the person answered, “we don’t rent lah, we only hire, you want to hire?” Hallelujah!!! Oh yes, you bet, we will hire the tent, no worries at all. And then the slightly risen hopes came crashing down when the gentleman added, “but you too late lah, all hire gone, you call someone else and ask to hire not rent. Hire can, rent cannot”. Armed with this new found knowledge, we again began the calls with renewed confidence and enthusiasm-“we would like to hire a tent lah”. We thought we were fast/quick/rapid/swift learners. And the answer was, “no lah, you cannot hire tents lah, but you can rent.” In my peripheral vision I could see the hubby holding his head, shoulders shaking, tears streaming down his face in helpless laughter while I gaped, flustered, sputtered and begged to hire or rent whatever. “But no lah, not possible lah, too late lah! Can not lah!”
People familiar with Malaysia would be accustomed to the suffix lah to sentences as well as can-can for an affirmative and a long stressed cannot for a negative. However when I accompanied guests from overseas to a restaurant and their request of, “can I get a can of coke please” was met with a quizzical frown, followed by a quick understanding on the part of the waiter as he quipped happily, “can cannot lah, but bottle can!” Go figure!!!