Pinging. Grinding. Screeching. Knocking. There are a lot of words that American mechanics know. They’re also used to people that come in and say, “My car is making a noise,” but when asked to describe it, can’t even begin to find the words. “Ummmm, it’s just … that noise, you know?”
So it’s hard to communicate with your mechanic. Now suppose your mechanic doesn’t speak much English? Suppose you need to tell him that your car makes a shaking/knocking noise somewhere between 30-50 km/h and the noise comes from the underside of the engine?
I speak a little Malay, but it turns out, I don’t speak *CAR* Malay. I speak market Malay – is this fruit ripe? (They always take the fruit from me and select a better one – I’ve chosen to think of it as chivalrous and not patronizing – just once I hope to pick the best one!) I speak kid-Malay. (“Super! No, Don’t! Run fast-fast!”) I even speak some grammatically correct Malay (which always throws people: “I am now speaking as a robot would pronounce.”) But, as I learned this week, I don’t speak CAR Malay.
In the end, I had them put the car up on the lift and pointed to where I thought the noise was coming from; then the manager took it for a drive but didn’t hear anything. I got in and heard the noise as I drove away. My takeaway from this is that most cars here do make noises – they’re not maintained that well, generally – so my wanting a finely-tuned family sedan turned out to be more my American heritage than local culture’s expectations of a car. I’ll have to see if I can live with that weird noise – the environmentalist/efficiency expert in me says no – but in the meantime, I guess I get to upgrade my Malay vocabulary to include car noises.
One fun final note – the word for sedan here is “saloon.” “Saloon” is also the translation for “salon.” So it’s the same word for 4-door car as for haridresser. Even the English takes getting used to!