Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I've made several friends in my neighborhood who don't speak English. When we see each other we wave and our faces light up. Now that we've known each other for some time, we step towards each when we greet, and we say hi, how are you, I'm fine thanks, and isn't this evening lovely? At least I think that's what we're saying. I can never be sure.

We usually move past our initial greeting and have full conversations, each of us speaking our own language and gesturing frantically. Most conversations, my eyes grow wide as I flail my hands, as though my big eyes will communicate more than my meaningless English syllables.

At some point we stop talking and we laugh because we have no idea what anyone is saying, and then I whip out my phone and open the "voice memo" app. I hit record and hold the phone out to them so they can repeat whatever they've just said. I have a friend who speaks Mandarin who will help me translate it later. Then I'll record her voice interpreting my response to my friends' Mandarin message. I'll play it for them the next time I see them.

Usually, my friends stare blankly at my phone. There is something about me suddenly holding it in their faces that squelches conversation. But then it dawns on them what I'm doing, and they throw back their heads and giggle and start murmuring uncertainly.

When the murmuring has trailed off I put my phone away and tell them I hope they have a lovely evening, and I'm sure they tell me the same. I always walk away smiling.

© by scj