Language barriers and involuntary vowel movements…

Last days in Nepal.

Before leaving for this trip, I was attempting to learn Hindi through a language program called Pimsleur. I now have a rudimentary understanding of some basic sentences like: “Do you speak English?” or “How much does this cost?” or “Where have you hidden the cheese?”

Nepali is very similar to Hindi, in fact a lot of languages in this area are similar enough that people can understand each other. The problem that I am having is with pronunciation. English gets by with 5 vowels that roughly make up 20 or so vowel sounds. Hindi has 12 vowels that make up over 100 sounds. My harsh Calgary accent makes it really hard for people over here to understand me some times.

Think about the words lose and loose. The difference between the two word sounds is very subtle, but the meanings are quite different. You could say to somebody “My stool is loose” while you are sitting on a tall chair, but the if the person hears “My stool is lose”, he may think that you are a loser with a screw loose and will be at a loss on how you could lose your shit… Or at the very least he will offer you an Imodium.

An example for me happened on my first few days in Nepal trying to hire a car. They completely understood that I needed a ride, but they had no idea where I wanted to go because I was butchering the pronunciation of Panauti. I kept on asking for a lift to “Pan-aw-tee” where the correct pronunciation is closer to “Po-know-tee” (and that still isn’t right but at least they can understand what I’m saying). To their ear, what I was originally saying sounded more like “Could you please take me to scrhangdeepgibber” for what it was worth.

It does, however, go both ways. A lot of the children in Panauti are taught English at school, and some of them are very good at speaking it. Some, not so much. There was one child of about 12 who came up to me and said “Ai aroo hare”, to which I replied “maiN nepalī nahīN samajhtā hūN” (which means I don’t understand Nepali).

The boy repeated “Ai aroo hare, Ai aroo hare” and I said again “maiN nepalī nahīN samajhtā hūN”. This went on for a few minutes with each of us repeating the same phrases over and over again until a passerby finally said to me “The boy is speaking English, he is asking “Why are you here?”. He then turned to the boy and said “vaha nepalī nahīN samajhtī” (vaha means he, maiN means I). To my ear, what the passer by said and what I said sounded pretty much the same, but the subtle differences made it so the boy couldn’t understand. He probably heard something like “My squirrel plays the pomegranate in the dark with a big hunk of cheese” or something like that.

Now that we had a translation, both the boy and I nodded with an “ohhhh that’s what he was saying” kind of look, and we laughed.

Another example came from a sign for a cafe in Panauti. The sign reads “Coffee and Bekari Shop” and I kept wondering what kind of Asian sweet a Bekari was, the picture looked like a mini doughnut so I kept on wondering about nepalese bekaris and wondering if they had a chocolate glazed one with sprinkles.


It wasn’t until the last day that I figured out the sign. What they meant when they put down Bekari, was Bakery.

My ride back to Kathmandu was great, and I stayed at the same hotel there when I arrived. The Peak Point Hotel.


Located in the tourist district of Thamel, it is really close to the shopping district and a few nice restaurants. One place called The Gaia Restaurant and Coffee shop is really nice and close to the hotel. The vegetable curry was awesome… And I had some fries and a beer.


I spent my last day in Nepal exploring the streets of Thamel and even trying my hand at haggling. I saw a really nice shirt hanging outside a shop and stopped to take a look. The clerk then said “If you like this you can have it for 2000 rupee” (about $25). I said no thanks and started to walk away “Ok, 1500…. 1200…” I returned to look at it again, felt the fabric, and said no thanks again, “Ok, ok, ok, ok, 800…. 650?”

I ended up paying NPr 650 ($8) for an embroidered polo shirt, and probably still got ripped off, but it was fun anyway.

Back to India tomorrow, and a continuation of the adventures.


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3 thoughts on “Language barriers and involuntary vowel movements…

  1. Larry says:

    Great blog. Are you creating the blog with an iPad?

    A yoga teacher I know spent a month teaching in India (as part of a program that works with addicts) and said she couldn’t wait to get home. As soon as she arrived home, she couldn’t wait to get back to India.

  2. Michael Walton says:

    Really enjoying these JBJ! How long is this adventure and where else are you planning?
    All the best my friend. Enjoy!

  3. JBJ says:

    Larry, Ya I’m using the WordPress iPad app. Works pretty good.

    I can say the same thing about Nepal… I can’t wait to explore India now…

    Mike, India is next, New Delhi, Bengaluru, parts of Tamil Nadu, Channai, possibly Thiruvananthapuram but only if I can pronounce it…

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