Bop the Snake

by Translation Guy on August 24, 2010

Bop as in “bang.” You know, like to “nail.”  As in, “whack the gopher.” That’s what I mean. But in Hausa you say bop the snake.

My head hunter, Mike Klinger, used to be in the Peace Corp in Niger. (Just to be crystal clear, by head hunter, I mean Mike helps me to recruit people for 1-800-Translate. What he does in his own time is his own business, mostly, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Mike had been living in the sticks (“en brousse” ) in Guidan Roumji―a wide spot on Route N1 outside of Maradi in Niger―for the last two years with the Peace Corp. He was headed back Stateside, with a pile of gear stacked next to his table at a dusty teahouse, the only white face in the crowd, looking every inch the tourist, when a grubby looking character stood up and addressed the room. “Hey, watch me get some money from this white guy!” He headed over, and in his best version of pitiful French said to Mike, “Monsieur, can you give me a present?”

Mike gave him a smile, looked to the beggar’s audience and said in Hausa, “First you make an announcement of how you are going to get my money, and then you expect me to give it to you after that speech.”

Great timing, great delivery, the crowd loved it. The ‘Mai Kanti’ (shopkeeper) who was serving the tea, looked at Mike, smiled and said, “Maciji ya hidda rammi, ka buggan kai maciji” (“The snake popped out of its hole and you bopped it on the head”).

Cost of the tea, a few cents. Minibus from Guidan Roumji, a half buck. Turning the tables on a jackass, priceless.

That incident was a nice payoff for all of Mike’s long hours learning Hausa, and calling someone out when they assume you don’t understand what they are saying is a rare treat for the multilingualist.

But as an accomplished jackass myself, I know from personal experience that bilingualism can be a double-edged sword when it comes to linguistic faux pas.  Best practice is to speak in a language that everyone can understand. Just common politeness. Nowadays, the only time I speak Japanese in front of non-Japanese speakers is when I’m at some family function and I want to irritate my brothers. Believe me, it’s their just deserts.

OK, now back to the well with Mike and what he does on his own time.

Now 20 years later, I’m still in touch with friends from Guidan Roumji. We are doing a fundraiser African drum event to build several wells for the town.  Drought is a real threat there and drinking water is essential to the health of the villagers. For more details or to make a donation to Bokai Inc go to Mike’s site here.


  1. Gábor says:

    just deserts? :)

  2. Neal Glover says:

    Here in Prague even in the shopping malls there are young ladies who will approach people and say, “Speak English” and attempt to sell you perfume or lotions. They’ll say that to anyone, they’ve said it to me, and I certainly don’t look like I speak English due to my heritage.

  3. Ron Barak says:

    That reminds me of a similar occurrence that happened to me.
    At the time (1988), I was teaching English in Seoul (South Korea).
    I came back to the guest-house I was staying in, after an exhausting day of teaching, and crashed on the sofa of the guest-house’s common-room. Two young Israelis (probably in their after-the-army tour of the East) came in and started commenting (in Hebrew, my native language) on “the lazy bum who just sleeps there”. I let them ramble and comment on me without a comment.
    Later that evening, I met those two in the kitchen and politely asked them (in Hebrew) to pass me some glasses.
    It was priceless seeing the realisation sink in as they understood that I could talk Hebrew and understood every word they said earlier!

  4. Leroy Monroe says:

    Last week, I visited several of the Paris landmarks. At three of them, I was greeted by what appeared to be gypsies with this piece of paper who only knew how to say, “Speak English.”……I wouldn’t even look at the piece of paper. They were found at the Eifel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame.

  5. Glen Abbott says:

    Just keep walking and don’t establish eye contact. These people have been there for years and obviously wouldn’t be there if some suckers didn’t say “yes”.

  6. It may be a terrible intrusion and annoyance and you have every right to contact the police if begging is illegal, but no matter what the person is a human being

  7. My surprise is that the French authorities who found a way to keep me off the grass haven’t found a way to deal with professional begging/ persistent and/or aggressive harassment of tourists at the most important sites in their national capital – we’re not talking Third World here.

  8. Doris Kinney says:

    During my trip to Laos last month, I felt really down and heart broken
    for those Lao Soldiers manning the streets or high ways (in laos).
    They actually are beggars; they begged the tourists and passengers of
    the bus, trucks and cars they stopped for three things:
    1. water
    2. cigarettes
    3. cooked rice or food and fruits.

  9. Hairyass says:

    Linguistic is an adjective; it means of or relating to the study of language.
    As you might expect, linguistics (a noun) is the study of language or languages.

  10. I’m interested in becoming a Crytological Linguist for the Army as also a translator. I average a 70-75 on my practice ASVAB tests. I have had experience with languages from travelling and from school. I was wondering how diffucult it is to become a Linguist from people that may have more knowledge than I.

  11. ConnieLingus says:

    Begging is not illegal and most of these people are EU citizens with the right to live in other EU countries.
    Do you come from a country with no beggars?

  12. When someone walks up and asks ‘speak English?’, I like to clearly say “no, I don’t”, why should they be any less irritated than me?
    On the other hand, I find those who attempt to do something to earn some money are worth a listen and a few coins – at least there is some kind of exchange going on.

  13. Whilst linguistics is certainly the study of language, do not confuse it with language learning. Linguistics deals with the structure of languages (both written and spoken structures), the relationships (if any) between them, and the connection between language use (whether written or spoken) and the meanings attaching to words, phrases and sentences. In this last sense it is sometimes called “linguistic philosophy”.
    So “linguistic” is the adjective to describe all these things, and the relationships between them.

  14. clickhappy says:

    A few years ago the scourge was people from Balkan areas like Kossovo, or least they claimed to be. I was waylaid near Gare Montparnasse by a team of about 4 of them. Unfortunately, they spoke English quite well.

  15. YourEditor says:

    Yep, just deserts, as in that which is deserved. Not sandy deserts, not sweet desserts, just deserts :)

  16. Meh says:

    Beggars fine, but persistent begging after you’ve clearly stated no several times? (I blame the tourists who eventually cave for that one.) And some beggars double as pick-pockets when the begging doesn’t pan out.

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