Thursday, October 30, 2014

Language Lessons

My Russian is pretty good. It's not what you'd call great, but I can get done what needs to get done. I can usually find a way to explain myself so that I'm understood, and I can follow most basic conversations, even in spite of my deafness.

I should study more - who shouldn't? - but frankly, I don't have the time. I'm comfortable where I'm at, and there are other more pressing things I need to focus on right now.

There's a lady I run into here on a weekly basis, and we chat in Russian each time. Basic conversation, nothing fancy: the weather, the kids' school, the upcoming weekend, good restaurants.

Last week, as we were finishing up our transaction, she asked me, in Russian, "where did you learn to speak such beautiful Russian?" I demurred, as one does, and said merely that I'd been posted here once before. "No," she shook her head emphatically, "to speak as you do, one must study the language from childhood."

Well, I was flattered, to say the least. I mean, who knew my Russian was so spectacular? I floated around on a cloud of you're-awesome for awhile, basking in the knowledge that I can speak Russian.

And then, a few hours later, I took a couple of the kids to lunch, after which we stopped in at the new Krispy Kreme for some donuts. (Don't judge. I mean, the donuts were right next door to the restaurant. And really, shouldn't I be promoting American businesses overseas???)

The lady behind the counter rang up our purchase, but she didn't give me my receipt.

"Excuse me," I said in my spoken-since-childhood Russian. "I need the receipt."

"I'm sorry?" she asked me.

"The receipt," I repeated, gesturing behind the counter at the cash register. "I'd like my receipt."

"Your... receipt?"

I nodded.

She laughed uncomfortably and looked at her colleague. "I don't understand her," she muttered to the colleague, who looked at me and asked again, "What do you want?"

"The receipt!" I said. I pointed at the cash register, at the tape protruding from the top. "I want one of these."

"Ooooohhhhh," said the first woman, "of course." She handed me my receipt, and I headed home, shaking my head at the confusion.

It wasn't until I was halfway home that I realized - I hadn't been asking for the receipt at all. I'd been asking for the recipe. I guess she thought I was hoping to get the actual Krispy Kreme recipe. Which, why would anyone want that? Once you see how much sugar and fat goes into every bite, I can't imagine you'd want to eat another very soon.

But yes. There are times when I walk around thinking, I've got this. And then there are those times when I can't even handle a simple junk food transaction. There's nothing quite like living in a foreign language bubble to poke a few holes in one's ego. For every moment of pride, I'm rewarded with hours of embarrassment. (And maybe even a delicious donut. Or two. Totally worth the humiliation, wouldn't you say?)

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