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Friday, November 03, 2006

Communication Breakdown

Most of our mouthfuls of words, sentences, and verbal constructions are a necessary indication of life and its experiences. Check the facebook and blogging community, all of us have some sort of commentary to share, whether in staunch protest or in gentle appraisal. –But take our natural inclination towards the spoken and written word, and further it into an unknown series of bumbling consonants colliding into foreign vowels sounds, and any appraisal that our lips find natural, they will rally up and rebel against this far off language in more numerous protests that we could ever pronounce.That is why whenever I’m in the murky throes of a foreign language the only vocabulary I chance to master is the vocabulary of cursing well. For every foreign word that is being pounding into this stubborn noggin of mine, I learn fluency in entire sentences composed completely of cuss words. It’s a remarkable phenomenon, this irony. Whereas I cannot communicate very effectively down in Mexico or Italy, I have reached the pinnacle of proficiency to chat hours upon hours with truck drivers and sailors. The school system never expected this educational experience from their stern curriculum of 2 years of foreign language studies. They have gone above and beyond their call of global literacy. In fact, at times, I’m in such dramatic excitement over these courses that I’m being forced to take, that if I could, as a commencement, I would line the faculties of these universities up and show off the unexpected ability that their language courses have taught me with full gusto and apparent fluency. Ha! Sometimes, in some enthusiastic moments of passionate zeal, I wish these faculty members could bring their mothers and even their grandmothers, so even THEY could witness the unleashing of my incredible proficiency which these schools have made possible. But enough of that. What my point is…is to reveal my frustration with foreign languages, not to encouraging #*&@!ing.Perhaps, the only time I’ve ever felt truly competent in the area of foreign languages is the time in 11th grade when a Brazilian exchange student friend of mine, Ciao Bertti’s father was coming to the U.S. to visit. They hadn’t seen each other for an entire year. And the father didn’t speak a lick of English, but he could ramble off Portuguese without stopping. There was great expectation in the air. Arrangements were being made for his father’s visit. I took it upon myself to learn some Portuguese to greet his father in all warmth and dignity. So I used Ciao to translate the phrase that would give his father a hearty welcome.His father arrived and we all stood in the parking lot watching the father and son embrace after their long furlough from each other. Then Ciao began to introduce the crowd, his host family and friends. When he got to me, I stood in supreme confidence in my linguistic endeavor as I pronounced in rhythmic sway, “Vamos vicar pelatos etomar un banyo juntos.” My tone was cheerful, hospitable, and embracing. For a brief second I was the ideal ambassador, a lamp, a torch, for our great nation to another nation as I issued forth these welcoming words. It was as though I was saying, “Welcome to America! We love your son and we love Brazilians. Make yourself at home, Pops.” –But in fact what I really was saying was “Let’s take off our clothes and take a bath together!” The beauty in saying this is the whole concept of being the typical ignorant American saying what I thought was correct. As though the English-Portuguese dictionary was faulty. These words cut through the air of sentimentality of the moment…Mr. Bertti, with tears on the brink of his eyes from seeing his son, takes a pause of reflection, and then busts out in laughing convulsions, as he points to me and repeats the phrase over and over again. Knowing Brazilians, there isn’t much that’s too racy for them. Knowing Brazilians, he probably stopped to entertain the idea. After that friendly acquaintance, that jovial old man, liked me more than all the other Americans. So ever since then, that phrase has stuck in my brain, and I don’t know why. Perhaps, I’m saving it for my wedding night to that busty Brazilian salsa dancer that I’m gonna meet one of these days when I finally go down to Rio for Carnival. But until then, this phrase is always on the tip of my tongue wanting to spill out whenever I run into native Portuguese speakers. It’s almost as though, like most knowledge is, I’m really saying, “Hey, look at what I can say.” But the bare fact is that that’s not at all what they would be hearing. So I keep my mouth shut unless I’ve met them before a time or two.Probably one of the worst moments I’ve had in my adventures with foreign languages (except all ridiculous exams, quizzes, workbooks, just plain workloads in a classroom) would be some of the times that I’ve had in Russia. I recall this one kiosk nearest to my apartment in Moscow, where sometimes I would buy bread and Coca-Cola. There was this girl in there that was the rudest, meanest, Russian harpy. I would come in there with my unpolished shreds of Russian, saying “Ya hatchoo Koka-Kola tam, paschalsta”(I want that Coca-Cola bottle there, please). Well, everytime I went in there, and she must have had this vendetta against foreigners. She would pretend to not understand a word I said. It was very apparent what I wanted, even if I wasn’t saying the words correctly. Everyone understands “the point and grunt technique”. And I am the master of “the point and grunt technique.” But she would stand there, shrugging her shoulders, pretending not to understand me at all, and looking at me like I was stupid. At times, she would glance over at her co-worker, another extremely rude lady, and start to laugh and sneer at me as though I was this Vodka-drunk circus freak asking her out on a date. Eventually, it would “dawn” on her what I wanted and she would give the item to me. I would march out of there fuming. Well, one time, she really got to me, so I thought to myself, “Alright dyedushka (girl) you are really gonna get it now.” In my apartment, I had tons and tons of these little kopecks. If you can imagine our pennies being divided up into smaller units of coins…than that would be the equivalent of the Russian kopeck. I take a huge heap of them and then strut into that kiosk. In my heated imagination I remember envisioning it where I would, after she brought me my item, drop all these kopecks onto the counter letting them roll all onto the floor everywhere. But my temper had cooled by the time I got there. So I just placed them in her hand and said, “Speciba Bolshoi” (a big thanks) and grabbed my item and headed out the door, as she stood there trying to count them all with the long line filing up to the counter. That was probably the meanest thing I ever did in my life in Russia. (or close to it.) and I confess it to you…so feel special.I write all that to illustrate my complete frustration at the study of foreign languages. I had a hard time last year when I, crazily, took Spanish and Italian at the same time (that’s why I failed Spanish) and now, I have a hard time taking Italian. I am just sick of it all. And the funny thing is that I love to travel and will probably live in foreign countries in the future. It’s the entire language thing. I love the ideas, sounds, feelings, pictures, the spirit of words…but, I cannot stand their dull mechanics of formation. It’s nothing but one heart-breaking, head-splitting, nerve-racking experience and all I want to do is find one language and communicate effectively, passionately, and vividly….and I shall be happy. So Goodbye, Adios, Auf Wedersehn, Das Vedanya, Adieu, Sianara, Arrivederci, Ching-Wong Chu Feng, Hubba-Jubba Toyu Manluwiyu, Click-Click-Click.


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