Thursday, November 20, 2008

Press 1 For English

I think everyone should learn at least one foreign language. It's a shame that in America most people do not speak a second language because the ability to communicate through a foreign language is empowering. We have had the opportunity to meet people in our travels and have encountered no less than four different languages spoken. The people at Lufthansa need to be fluent in a minimum of two languages and most know at least three or four. For us, of course, the language we most frequently encountered was Russian which I did manage to learn a little prior to traveling and it came in very handy. Nontheless, for some silly reason I was never mistaken for a Russian speaking person. Maybe it's my western European features or maybe my tan sub zero winter coat I got from Land's End. That one really seemed to draw a lot of attention. Almost everyone here wears some shade of black. I would walk into a store or onto a plane and hear either German, Russian or Kazakh spoken only to be greeted with a "Hello".

One time during our stay I was in the grocery store looking for some jelly, not just any kind but I had to have grape. So I'm standing there looking at the pictures to see if I can see any semblance of grapes in the pictures. I did learn the Cyrillic alphabet so I can read the words but am completley reverted to 5 year old status when I try. Ok that letter is a "P", that letter is an "L". After I finally transliterate the letters then I have to break it down to syllables and muster a pathetic effort to pronounce the word. My patience and understanding level just increased for reading with my 5 year old. So I'm standing there with a jar of jelly in each hand intently looking at the pictures when I hear a voice say in perfect English, "Do you need some help?". Now, at first I thought I was hearing things, especially when I looked up and saw a young Kazakh woman standing there looking at me. Up to this point the only people who spoke English with us were the interpreter and other Americans. In amazement, I said, "you speak English!" She was kind enough to ask the clerk for me and told me she learned English at the local university.

After weeks of trying to communicate in another language I guess you could say you get into a mode. I was in Russian mode. Communicating with the driver, the housekeeper, buying things at the store or green market. No one knows English (except for the nice young Kazakh lady at the store). We would even joke around with the other adoptive parents there and try to speak Russian to each other. So we are on our final leg home at the airport in Frankfurt and I'm looking at our boarding passes and the seat assignment just didn't seem like it was a bulkhead row so I head to the closest ticket counter to ask an agent. The closest Lufthansa ticket counter that was open was for a flight to somewhere in Africa that I have never heard of, and my geography is pretty good. So I walk up to the counter and before I could say anything the agent looks up and says hello to me...IN RUSSIAN. Okay, I'm in Germany, at the ticket counter for a flight to somewhere in Africa, and I get a "ZDRASTvuytye". Maybe it was my black shirt. I'm pretty sure I had the same stupid look on my face as I did in the grocery store. So of course being completely out of mode all I could muster was a lame, "Hello". Darn it, I missed my opportunity.

We patiently waitied out the next 5 hours for our flight home and looked forward to not having to hold Kathryn for the 10 hour flight. She will appreciate that too. So finally time comes to get on board which we do and find our seats, right on the bulkhead. As the flight attendants come around to assist people with their seats and luggage one comes by us, notices the infant, bulkhead row, I'm sure she was thinking 'ok these people will need a bassinet'. She says "Sprechen zie Deutsch?" Now I'm really confused and not sure wheather to fish or cut bait let alone figure out which language I'm supposed to speak. Maybe it was because I have already been awake for 24 hours, maybe it was because the lady at the African ticket counter threw me back to Russian mode, or maybe it was because I just wanted to redeem myself for the lost opportunity of being mistaken for a Russian speaking person and this was the closest I could get, I simply answered her, "Nyet!"

1 comment:

Uncle Bruce said...
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