In my previous post I talked about the Spalding Tulip Festival and it reminded me of one of my favourite Tulip stories…
… This is not a botanical story but one of linguistic misunderstanding…
The name Tulip was first applied to the plant by a man called Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq who was a Dutch ambassador in Turkey in the sixteenth century and was also a great floral enthusiast. One day he was talking to a sultan and he noticed that he was wearing an attractive flower in his head wear.
When I say talking what I mean is that they were communicating with each other in the way that people do when they can’t speak each other’s language with lots of funny faces and wild gesticulations and misunderstandings.
I digress here and give an example from my own experience…
Now, I know that like most English people my grasp of foreign languages is not that good but this experience in the Spanish city of Palencia was quite bizarre.
“Catedral?” I enquired and the poor man (victim) that I had selected just stared back at me with an expressionless face as though I was a visitor from another planet. So I tried again but this time, remembering that upside down question mark thing at the beginning of the sentence I tried to sound a bit more Spanish, “¿Catedral?” but his face went so blank that I though rigor mortis had set in. I have to say that Catedral sounds a bit like Cathedral to me so I don’t know why this was so difficult but his solution was to call someone else over who was an obviously educated man who spoke excellent English and with optimism I tried again “¿Catedral?”
To my astonishment he immediately adopted exactly the same blank face as the first man so I tried again in various different accents and voice inflections. “¿Catedral?” “¿Catedral?” “¿Catedral?” Nothing, Nothing, Nothing. I really cannot understand why this should be so difficult. If a Spanish man came up to me in Lincoln and asked for directions to the Cathedral – however he might pronounce it, I am fairly sure that I could make out what he was asking for. Eventually I gave up, added the h sound and just asked in English for directions to the Cathedral and amazingly I immediately made myself understood and the man smiled and said “Ah, Catedral!” which, I am fairly certain is exactly what I said in the first place.
Busbecq was curious about the flower and pointed to it and enquired its name. In Turkey the name of the flower was a Lale (prounced lalay) but the Sultan thought he meant what is the name of his hat so he told him it was a Tulipan or turban and Busbeqc, who completely misunderstood, acquired some bulbs and sent them back to Europe with the information that they were called Tulipa.
A good job that he wasn’t wearing a pork pie hat or tulips would be porkies!
Now, this is important information in case we have another vegetable supply crisis.
All parts of tulips are edible and the bulb can be substituted for onions (although they are a little more expensive and less flavourful). The Dutch ate tulip bulbs in the hard times of World War Two even though the petals have little taste but could be used to garnish a dish, chop a few petals and throw them in a salad, sugar them to decorate a cake or use the entire flower for a fruit bowl, pinching out the pistil and stamen in the middle.
Incidentally the tulip is the national flower of Iran and Turkey where it is still called the Lale.