Legitimate concerns

This one gets my more advanced adults howling.

First, I must explain a connection between Polish and English. I promise this linguist eggheadishness is going somewhere: bear with me. This connection revolves around Latinate words like ‘valorisation,’ ‘consternation’ and ‘fermentation.’ Their Polish equivalents look and sound almost the same: ‘waloryzacja’ (remember, ‘w’ is ‘v’ in Polish ), ‘konsternacja’ and ‘fermentacja.’ The big change is the between the two languages is the “ation” to “acja” (pronounced “ah-tsya”). I tell the following story whenever a student tries to work this connection a little too hard.

A the end of last October, I went to buy my first monthly bus pass. Everyday, I ride the bus from Cieszyn to Skoczów, a small town to the north west. A bus pass not only makes financial sense, but it allows me to avoid interacting with the surly bus drivers who man this route.

I went to the bus station in Skoczów armed with all the phrases I would need.

(When I tell the following part to my students, I usually ham it up a bit, leaning completely to the side as if I’m speaking through that low gap at the teller window, the one that’s for passing cash. I say the lines in Polish, which I’m sure still sounds a bit funny.)

“How much is a monthly ticket?”

“I need one from Cieszyn to Skoczów.”

“I’ll take one.”

“Thank you.”

So I tried the first two lines out on the lady behind the glass. She seemed to be getting it, but then she asked me a question that wasn’t in my notes. Something about “legitymacja” (pronounced with a hard ‘g’). I said I didn’t understand. She tried again, said something about students. I thought, “Ah, my baby-face is causing problems again.” So I explained that I wasn’t a student. I was a teacher. I just wanted a normal monthly ticket. That would be fine. Thanks.

The students love that last bit because any interactions with people behind glass are anything but straight-forward around here.

In my frustration, I turned to see who was in line behind me. Youngish people. Perfect. Someone will know English.

“Look, can you help me? I want to buy a monthly bus ticket. But there seems to be a problem.”

“Sure. Okay.”

So the English speaker yammered with the behind-glass lady. At the end, bilingual girl turned to me and said, “Ah, you need your legitimation.”

To which I replied, “Oh. Right. Great. Yeah, I’ll just go home and get it. Thanks. Really. Thanks for your help.”

I got out of there as fast as I could.

My students are killing themselves at this point because there is, of course, no “legitimation,” at least not like my helpful friend at the bus station thought. She just took the Polish word and turned it into an English one, with a hard ‘g’ pronunciation and everything. In Polish, “legitymacja” is official student or senior ID. In English… well, if you can read this, you don’t need to be told.

I did get a bus pass the next day, but it was at the Cieszyn bus station. I did have to explain once again that I had no legitymacja but I had my passport and residency papers. That took care of everything.

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