by Wayne Scheer
A couple of years back, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks living with a family in Tibilisi, Georgia. Our hosts didn’t speak much English and we spoke far less Kartuli, the national language of the Republic of Georgia. We approached each other carefully, using our phrase books dutifully and gesturing flamboyantly. Still, with good humor, we managed to communicate.
One day we sat down to breakfast to discover that the man of the house, Badri, was absent. As best we could, we asked, “Where Badri?”
“Badri go prophylactica,” replied Manana, Badri’s wife.
We had been respectful guests, but we couldn’t help ourselves. My wife and I giggled. It was not a particularly mature way to act, I admit, but something about the unexpected, familiar-sounding word set us off like two children in a playground.
“Prophylactica?” I asked incredulously.
With the help of our dictionaries, we discovered that prophylactica is the Kartuli term for service station. Badri took his car to be tuned up. Preventive maintenance. After all, he was about to take us on a trip to the countryside and he wanted to make sure his automobile was in top shape. He, at least, acted responsibly.
Now it was Manana’s turn to ask. “Prophylactica. Why ha ha?”
This was a bit harder to explain because our phrase book didn’t include the words “prophylactic” or “condom” or even “birth control.” Vickie, my wife, not what you’d call a shy woman, took it upon herself to describe, using gestures, why we laughed at the word prophylactica. (Sorry, but although this is really the funniest part, it is more visual than verbal.) Eventually, Manana understood, and we all had a good laugh.
When Badri returned home, Vickie, extended the joke by asking, “Badri? Prophylactica?” and winking theatrically. Manana turned red and slumped onto a chair while we all had a good laugh at the expense of poor Badri, an old-world, stern type. He just stared, confused. When Manana explained the joke to him, he pointed his finger at Vickie in mock horror at how she had corrupted his wife, shouting, “You, you, you!”
A few days later, Badri dropped us off at the home of another family with whom we were to spend the night. As he helped us with our overnight luggage, he grabbed me by the shoulder and stage whispered, “Prophylactica?”
We became close after that, discovering that Badri’s no-nonsense demeanor masked an impish sense of humor. When we returned to his home, we found a pack of condoms under our pillow. I tried to comment, but he refused to acknowledge the prank. His facial expression didn’t even change when Vickie gave him the thumb’s up sign the next morning.
A year later, Badri and his family traveled to the U.S. to visit with us. Enough time had passed so no one mentioned the prophylactica jokes. At the end of the trip, in true Georgian fashion, we exchanged gifts. Amidst presents of pottery and hand-painted teacups, he included a framed newspaper article written in Kartuli. We, of course, had no idea what it meant and neither Badri nor Manana would translate it for us. After they left, we took it to a professor at nearby Emory University who was from the Republic of Georgia. He told us it was a newspaper article advising its readers to tune-up their automobiles regularly.
A friendship based on good humor and bilingual puns had been established.
published 15 January 2014