Behold the Hedgehog!

Posted by on July 1, 2014

You might have noticed that we haven’t been quite as prolific in our production of playful punditry lately. Of course there was a perfectly good reason for this. You see, a bit of acronym confusion caused us to get mixed up in a bit of a situation. You might recall that the countries of East Mangoustan and West Mangoustan were happily reunited some time ago, at which point we thought our involvement with them and their politics had come to an end.

Unfortunately, relations between the government of unified Mangoustan and residents of the former East Mangoustan have become quite strained. The former East Mangoustanis feel that they aren’t gaining the economic benefits that they were promised during the reunification process. One resident was heard to remark, “Before, everyone could afford corn and mustard, but no one could afford Shocking Popping Candy. Now, everyone can afford Shocking Popping Candy, but no one can afford corn and mustard!”

In an effort to resolve these mounting tensions, the Mangoustanis enlisted the help of the FBFCR. That is, the Federal Bureau of Foreign Cultural Relations. But, as you can see, that FBFCR shares an acronym with our FBFCR. As you’ve probably guessed, their specialty is cultural, and ours is culinary. But when the assignment arrived in our mailbox, we didn’t ask too many questions. We needed the money, and we’d dealt with the Mangoustanis before. Besides, how hard could it possibly be to appease a few angry Mangoustanis?

When I arrived to speak with the leader of the East Mangoustani delegation, I discovered that he didn’t actually speak English. I was instructed to negotiate with him in his native Mangoustani language. Apparently the FBFCR (the cultural one) has several Mangoustani speakers on its staff. Our FBFCR (the culinary one) has smartphones with translation apps, which seemed to be just as good. I tapped on “Good Quality Translatorium App (Free Edition)”, set it for English to Mangoustani, and carefully typed a greeting for the East Mangoustani representative.

The next few seconds were a blur. The phone said something in its synthesized voice, and the East Mangoustani immediately looked angry and horrified. The next thing I knew, angry bodyguards with frighteningly big guns were hauling me out of the building. They tossed me in the street and shouted something that I couldn’t understand. After I had a chance to compose myself, I looked at my phone and found that it had translated my ordinary greeting as “behold the hedgehog!”

Normally a translational gaffe such as this one would only result in a bit of laughter. The problem is that to former East Mangoustanis, the hedgehog symbolizes the border guards who once occupied the towers along the Jaquier Wall. Obviously I didn’t intend to invoke such a bad memory, but the FBFCR refused to pay $1.99 for the upgraded version of Good Quality Translatorium App so I had to use what was available.

Back at the FBFCR office (the culinary one), Angie and the Helmuts had already heard about what happened and were scrambling to figure out how to avoid an international incident. Lil’ Willy was also trying to get in on the discussion, but no one ever listens to him. The Helmuts suggested that I should be publicly fired and replaced with a giant plush caterpillar. Unfortunately, Angie had another idea. She said that the only way we could possible rectify the situation is for me to learn the Mangoustani language and go back to negotiate with the faction leader in his native tongue. The idea of simply referring this case back to the FBFCR (the cultural one) never crossed her mind. Once Angie gets started on something, she never lets anyone else finish it.

So, to make a long story short, the FBFCR (culinary) ordered the 28-volume set “A Basic Introduction to Mangoustani” from the FBFCR (cultural). They wouldn’t spend $1.99 to get me an app that can properly translate Mangoustani, but they gladly spent $999.95 on books about learning Mangoustani.

I’ve only looked at Volume 1 so far. It includes a chapter on the seven “genders” of Mangoustani nouns: masculine, feminine, neuter, royal, canine, zephyrous, and quadratic. It also has a sidebar with some mnemonic techniques for remembering how to decline a zephyrous noun when speaking to someone who is wearing a fedora. I’m a little afraid of what might be in Volume 2…

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