He tossed the coin up and I called “Heads!” – he looked down and the expression that appeared on his face told me I’d lost. My friend and I were 18, travelling round New Zealand and had just decided which of us was going to make a rather awkward phone call.
One of us had to call up the bus company and arrange a spot on the bus that was coming through town the next day. The problem was that we were staying in a town called Whakapapa.
Whakapapa is in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Like much of New Zealand, it is spectacular. Source
“Er… so what? Just call up and tell them you’re in Whakapapa!” I expect you’re thinking. Well we had just read in our guide book that the Maori pronunciation of the letters “Wha” should sound like “Fu”. Seriously? One of us had to phone up a stranger and say all bright and breezy: “Hi there! Can I book two seats on the bus from Fuckapapa tomorrow?”.
Looking back I can’t think why we were so reluctant to make the call, but as slightly timid 18 year olds I guess neither of us felt very confident about this whole “Fuckapapa” thing (was that really the proper way to say it?). For the record, I made the call, I pronounced it “Fuckapapa” and the woman on the phone didn’t bat an eyelid! (As a footnote to this story, I just did a little search on Whakapapa and found I’m not the only one who has issues with the name!)
When you’re not familiar with a language, it can be tricky to get the pronunciation right. In Portuguese, my name (Tom) means ‘tone’ which seems quite appropriate because although it is spelt the same, it sounds very different to its English equivalent. I discovered this the hard way when I first got to Brazil.