< SWITCH ME >

Have you ever had that frustrating feeling of being at a loss for words? You know what you want to say - the perfect idiom exists in your own language - but you're speaking English, and English sadly lacks the very turn of phrase you love so much! Boris Ludwig presents some of the "missing idioms" which we think ought to be introduced into European English... And this time, he tells his "four truths" to the faceless system of modern bureaucracy...

catfish
Photo: Stan Shebs (licence)
A rebellious catfish

Have you ever felt like you were only a number? Have you ever found yourself in the wheels of bureaucracy, reduced to a tiny combination of symbols and letters? Just look around: from the numerical point of view, you might even have a split personality, as there are matriculation numbers, ID cards and passports, tax numbers and even computer IP's.

Well, the truth is that we are constantly reduced to numbers, anonymised and unwittingly locked into numerous cages that classify us.

But you've got to respond to the numeric system with its own arguments and that's why all over Europe we collected idioms and rhetoric figures based around numbers. These will hopefully ease up your life as a small number between the big millstones of universities, companies or governments.

So next time you have to queue in an office for hours just to collect some stamps on a small piece of paper, stand up and shout out this injustice. Maybe start like this: "I will tell you my four truths now!" (Je vais vous raconter mes quatre vérités alors!) This French phrase means "I'll tell you what I think about that!" or "you won't have the last word!" Outside France, this will certainly guarantee you some attention.

Once you've started your riot against the system, just keep going like this, always referring to your E & M phrase book – the Greeks have a nice saying to express your disdain: "I don't care about your stamps and forms - three yodel and two dance!" (Τρεις λαλούν και δυο χορεύουν) You could shout this while queue-jumping forwards.

And just in case you still have to wait another couple of minutes, here is another Greek idiom for you: "Hey, it's my turn! Fish and visitors start to smell after three days!" (Τα ψάρια και οι φιλοξενούμενοι βρωμάνε σε τρείς μέρες.) A philosophic analogy like this might be sufficient to gain preferential treatment in a crowded waiting room.

And what if your aggressive tactics completely fail? What if you finish under the elbow of a security guy who's heading for the exit, forcing you to queue another time, another day?

It's never too late. Try to negotiate – with a German saying: "hey come on, let five be an even number, man!" (alle Fünfe gerade sein lassen) In case he looks surprised: it means "to turn a blind eye to something."

But if for the sake of your ego and your reputation you would never dare to negotiate with an angry security guy (which from the psychological point of view is perfectly reasonable), here is another exit strategy. Take a good friend with you and rebel together. In Russian they say: "if you're trying to catch two rabbits at the same time, you won't get any" (за двумя зайцами погонишься ни одного не поймаешь). In case they chase after you, chose two different directions and then leg it. That should work for the most part, but if it still doesn't change your situation for the better and you get nowhere, repeat this Italian saying to yourself: "better a lion for a year, than a hundred years as a sheep"- Meglio un anno come un leone, da cento anni come una pecora.

And just try again next time. Because you are not just a number.

NEXT ISSUE
IN -908 DAYS