Thursday, September 19, 2013

Language: Responsible Travel

Grocer. Evening.

I walk into the grocer for the first time. Maybe for the last time. I don't have the need or the courage to step back in the front door quite yet.

I walk into the grocer for the first time. Next door, the corner of the building is covered ground to first floor ceiling pornographic advertisement for Flert Vodka. I was told this grocer was owned by a family.

A family. This means they won't have any youth helping run it. All the youth have left Dobrich. To Varna. Sofia. Germany. Sweden. The United States is rarer.

I walk into the grocer for the first time. The lights are off. They don't turn on the lights during the day, I think, to save money. The sun is setting but not too earnestly yet.

I have practiced. I wrote the names of 3 vegetables on my phone.

Молуа, искам домат, пепер, и крацтабица.

Please, I want tomato, pepper, and cucumber.

I give the numbers. 3. 4. 2.

She nods and places them on the scale. Then she asks me a question about the peppers. And I don't understand. This confusion continues for several minutes. A line forms behind me. 3 or 4 women. The one directly behind me doesn't speak English either, but she is trying to help. I finally understand there is something about the numbers and the colors and what kind of peppers I wanted.

I didn't want complicated peppers. I forgot that different kinds of peppers even existed. I didn't know how to say "I want both". Or "I want green and red." Or "I don't care, give me whatever you want, however many you want."

I finally point at both peppers. Да и да. Yes and yes.

The grocer lady looked at the women behind me and let off a string of sentences. They didn't reply. She motioned towards me, shrugged her shoulders; kept shrugging them toward her ears, head bent. People don't really roll their eyes here. Not that I've seen yet. Shoulders do more talking.

She's mad at me.

I walk out of the grocer.

My motto in Dobrich has been, "Making friends, one embarrassing story at at time." And a lot of times, it's worked. The old women outside of my apartment. The girl at salsa who will probably become my best friend here. The neighbors, confused that knocked on their door to hand them a loaf of banana bread.

But this time, I didn't make friends. I made someone mad.

I'm trying. I really am. My friend K.C.expressed her commitment to not going to countries where she doesn't have a working knowledge of the language. Especially if she is going to spend extended amounts of time there. Ed, a guy with Navs Bulgaria, in response to my stated frustrations with language learning, had said, "If you love people, you'll learn it. It will come." Why language? It's an intimate thing, this naming of vegetables. Familiar. Childhood. It seems to be the things themselves. It is not merely a signifier when it comes down to the language(s) we've spoken since consciousness.

I know this. I feel that weight when I walk into the teacher's lounge and school and mutter a shy "здраьете hello".

This is going to be a long process.

1 comment:

sauma said...

I feel your pain. The other day I was thoroughly confused when someone was asking if I needed a bag. She seems annoyed but I committed myself to learning the word for bag (and remembering to jerk my head up to say no instead of shaking it) and going back to the same place to show that I had learned it. People are gracious and she seemed to be pleasantly surprised when I asked for half a kilogram of cheese a few days later. When she asked if I needed a bag, I nailed it :) We'll get there, one word at a time!