LAST NIGHT I played bridge. As the only one in our foursome who reached adulthood without learning this card game, I was at a distinct disadvantage. It’s sort of like being abducted by aliens and waking up on another planet where they all speak the same language and you don’t even know how to ask, “Where’s the bathroom?”
In fact, if you’re playing bridge, “Where’s the bathroom?” might actually mean, “I have five hearts and the ace of spades.” But only if you play that way. If you play another way, it could mean, “I have many clubs and no diamonds,” or maybe even, “Where’s the kitchen?” That’s the thing with bridge: Nothing means what it sounds like it means. (Of course, if you’ve spent your formative years indoors playing bridge, the ins and out of this private world are second nature to you. You can easily spot those people by their pallor.)
For example, I thought bidding “one club” was the way to tell my partner that I had pretty good clubs in my hand. But no! In bridge talk, I was unwittingly asking if my partner had hearts or spades, and had nothing at all to do with clubs! Of course, if you play “preferential diamonds,” a bid of “one diamond” means the same thing. But that’s a big If, and the only way to know is to . . . ask them. You can do this in regular English, unlike the rest of the game when you have to talk in Bridge.
Silly me, I didn’t ask, and naturally I was the evening’s Biggest Loser. And to make matters worse, before I lost I was very, very vulnerable! Which doesn’t mean what you think it means, but has something to do with rubbers and scoring tricks and being either above or below “the line.”
For me, playing bridge is similar to, but more confusing than, arguing over abortion in Corsican. I’ll explain: I understand French, but in Corsica they speak a unique language, part French, part Italian. Many years ago, I was in Corsica and spent an evening with a group of people who were arguing over abortion, naturally in Corsican. It was all very complicated, but every once in a while I would hear a word or a phrase that allowed me to make some sense of it all.
I was more confused last night playing bridge with my husband and friends in my own home right here in America. Which may actually be my way of saying, I love that game and can’t wait to play again.
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.