Monday, June 02, 2008

Khey, Chet it right, will you?

One of the interesting lessons of my first day of class in Mongolia is that I may have never correctly pronounced anything to do with the country – other than the name of the country itself.

The Great Khan is the Great Han. K is a silent letter in Mongolian. And Genghis – especially when pronounced as “Jengis,” is a puzzle for Mongolians. He is Chingaas (“cheen gus”).

And then there is the capital with all the vowels. Ulanbaataar in my lexicon was OOO-lon ba TAR. Here, its “AlonBAtar” – said quickly with all ahhing and no oooing.

I was wrong about trying to learn the Mongolian phrase for "where is the toilet" so I don't even need to remember to drop the "h" in jorlong khaan baidag ve. The International Sign Language for Guys system works well here. You can hop on one foot while grabbing your crotch in any place on the planet and some fellow will direct you to the can.

And this is not a one-small-drink country, so give up on the chance you will be able to toast with a cheery "Erüül mehdiin tölöö’" when your turn comes around the table.

So a simple "bye-arsh-te" and a nod of thanks will do.

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