At the literacy seminar, there were a range of different people, about twenty of us, all there for different reasons and motivations. As I stood by the refreshment table, as I’m wont to do in a room full of people I don’t know, I hear someone say to me, in German with a confrontational tone, “So…I hear you speak… German.”
I had an awkward hunk of cantaloupe in my mouth so I just shrug and say, in English, “Well, yeah.”
He has that strange, old man, macho masculinity stance going on, head tilted slightly up in order to look down at me, feet spread wide. It was too early on a Saturday morning for this sort of thing. I rattled off in completely suave and fluent German, with him hesitatingly punching in sentences. When I noted that his German had a Bavarian accent, honest to goodness, he took a step back from me. I haven’t spoken German that well in a while and was later rather impressed with myself. I do attribute how well I did to the utter lack of esteem I held for someone who has to confront me about a language at 9 on a Saturday.
What I thought about while our teacher rambled off on how we should not use sarcasm with our tutees [No, really? Damn.], was how incredibly awesome it is to have that reach into different languages. If you know even just one more language, think how many more stories of life and love and emotion you can gather. It’s mind-boggling to me. Even if those things are universal, to feel the touches of culture, environment, and individuality on those universals shows you that everyone has a different path to own these experiences and can share them as long as there is that exchange of language.
Slightly demoralized because I don’t speak four languages (unlike the über-achiever above who spoke German, French, and Chinese), I realized that I was way ahead of the average game at any rate when I was trying to help my Spanish speaking partner to guess a word.
“Here, I have an idea,” I say. “The trees are not ‘feo’. So what are they?” She blinks, and bursts out laughing, “Feo! So they’re ‘beautiful’.” She high fives me, “That was so cute!”
Okay, so I have a really bad Spanish accent. I learned my Spanish from a short, squat, blond-haired, blue-eyed Home Ec teacher from Dallas at a military base high school. There were only five students in the class and one was one of my best friends. We sat in the huge Home Ec room, with the ovens in the back and the sewing machines, that were my 14 year-old collective nemesis, were dark and covered and lined the walls.
The five of us students were at two tables, separated by the usual high school caste system. Somehow, while we never got terribly chummy, those lines faded away when we stuffed ourselves with ice cream sandwiches – Home Ec room perks. I’m not sure I learned very much, but unlike now, I didn’t really care.
One day, those “popular” girls were whispering about their naughtier and probably untrue exploits, when my best friend caught a phrase that drifted over.
“What’s a ‘blow job’?” She turned to me. I said nothing. I may or may not have known, I don’t remember, but even if I had known, volunteering that sort of information would not have been the best thing to do at the time.
Unfortunately: “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” yelped our teacher. The fridges hummed in the back and everyone was silent. A rash of red already crept into my friends face, “I, well, I asked what a blo-”
“INTO THE HALLWAY.” Then she refined herself into a gentile Southern dame, “It’s not that you’re in trouble darlin’, it’s just it’s not proper to talk about this sort of thang in front of everyone.” My best friend walked out like she was going to be drawn and quartered. The rest of the class sat silent, on one hand in shock, on the other – what was being said out there?
The door clicked open and I have, to this day, never seen any two people match that deep hue of red. …Though, in hindsight, who better to give her an explanation for that then a Home Ec teacher?