Never mind the answer

I’m not so good at the multilingual stuff. In the camping days on those long treks through France, I would telephone ahead to book a camp site. The problem was not the framing of the question – more understanding the answer. So I would formulate a lengthy question in French such that it could only be answered with ‘Oui’ or ‘Non’. For example: ‘Can I book an emplacement for tomorrow night on a sunny emplacement with a bit of shade convenient to the toilet block but not too close.’

The Lonely Planet Spanish Phrase Book has the opposite problem. It gives the answers but is irritatingly coy about the questions. As in: ‘I’m sorry; it’s against my beliefs’ or ‘I don’t mind watching but I’d rather not join in.’ It also explores the Spanish delight in lengthy and incomprehensible proverbs – as in: ‘to be like the market gardener’s dog who doesn’t eat the cabbages but won’t let his master eat them either.’

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