Well, obviously you are.
I overheard that sentence yesterday while writing my last post and enjoying a coffee (and I don’t normally eavesdrop, but it was difficult not to overhear the lady who said the above). It seemed strange for a few reasons.
First of all, because she didn’t say who she was having coffee with (she was answering her phone by the way, in case the context wasn’t clear). It’s not necessarily rude, but the man she was having coffee with was right there beside her. Plus she seemed to hesitate before she said someone, as though she were going to say who she was with, and then changed her mind. Maybe because it was the relationship between the two of them (middle-aged Irish woman and twentysomething Spanish man) was too complicated to explain. Obviously I don’t know what that relationship was (maybe I should’ve eavesdropped more), but I’m guessing from the fact that they made polite small talk and seemed basically familiar with each other, that he was a language student and she his host mother. The person on the phone probably didn’t know the Spanish gentleman, and she probably couldn’t be bothered explaining.
Of course once I’d thought this, I immediately became critical of how she failed to grade her speech (speaking too fast, using obscure idioms). Though his level wasn’t bad and he could hold his own. The conversation was fairly limited, and he made a few classic Spanish-speaker errors, but he’d obviously spent his time here well.
(I realise by the way, that I at this stage I probably seem quite nosey. And perhaps I am, though I like to think that I’m just alert and notice little details, like good writers do).
But even though I probably figured out why she didn’t say who she was having coffee with, it still seemed like a strange sentence. I’m having coffee with someone in a coffee shop. I suppose she could have been having coffee at home, but then wouldn’t she just have said she was at home? Maybe she specificed she was in a coffee shop because coffee-shop culture is still fairly new to Ireland, and in her youth she would never have had a coffee shop to go to.
Of course the curious part of me wondered if she was flustered because there was something ilicit about her rendez-vous, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s not the case. Anyway, it is a strange sentence, objectively, in its redundancy. I think what made it seem particularly strange to me though, is that in that sense it’s really like the kind of sentence we tend to use in a second language, but never our own.
When we’re learning a language, we learn certain individual words and phrases, and then we use them. But we tend to overuse them. In our native tongue we automatically streamline things and leave out words and phrases that aren’t necessary. So we’d say something like I’m having coffee with someone, because that automatically implies it’s a social situation, and the location is logically a café or coffee shop. But in a second language, we’re more conscious of what we’re saying, and tend to try to get everything right. Because of that, we tend to get things too right, and say things that are grammatically correct, but probably a little long-winded and redundant.
Even though she was of course a native speaker, I think the fact that she had to refer to a relatively uncommon situation made her stop to think a little bit more about exactly what she had to say, and therefore come out with this relatively odd sentence. I wonder if she has any idea that I’ve written this much about her.
Anyway, I’m currently writing this in a different coffee shop, and at a table nearby there’s a young Spanish woman talking with two Irish men. And no, I’m not eavesdropping this time either, but they could speak a little more quietly! The context seems to be quite different though. It’s definitely a business meeting, and the young woman’s English level is quite high. She’s using generic business terms like the two men, and also some more general expressions that would take some time to learn. So well done to her, and I hope the meeting goes well.
Yes, I know, I should stop listening to people in public, but I can’t help it. Like I said, I’m noticing, not eavesdropping. And they are saying things which interest me enough to write about, which they should be very proud of!
Anyway, I’ll stop now and start reading Il Buio (which means The Dark by way: I figured it out when the word was used on one of the latter pages of Memorie Dall’Invisibile!)