Friday, September 15, 2006

Which language do I what?

"Which language do you think in?"
"English."
"Oh, so you've lived here long enough to use English even in your head?"
"I was born and raised here." Jokingly: "Are you saying I sound like a foreigner?"
"Oh no, I didn't say that. I just thought you were from somewhere else."
"No. I'm from here. And I think in English. But sometimes I dream in Polish."
"Really?"
"Or Japanese."
"I can't imagine...."
"Yeah." Jokingly: "It's great to wake up and not know where you are."
Just another daily encounter I have with the americanos in my classes. Is it my expensive Danish shoes? The more than pea-sized amount of hair gel I apply religiously every morning? (Although that's a result of my conditioning during the '80s and bears no reflection on the stamps in my passport.) The fact that I don't wear tee-shirts on campus? (It's not that I go shirtless, I just wear collared dress shirts. Ironed. And tucked in. (I mean, after all, they aren't 'collared' people.))

In my Ottoman Empire history course, I'm considered the Ukrainian expert. If these people knew how I was almost thrown out of that country perhaps they'd start seeing me as "one of them." I guess it's really just by default: there's a Polish woman in the course, so she obviously trumps my expertise in her country. (And yes, she does sound like a foreigner. But that's why I like her.) Being the Ukrainian expert merely means that every time the professor - with his proper Cambridge accent - mentions Ukraine, he turns to make eye contact with me. In our class, there's also the slavery expert, the religion expert, the borderlands expert (we, of course, overlap, so it's a good thing we sit on the same side of the room), the women's history expert, etc. The professor turns his head a lot.

I don't have preconceived ideas about where my classmates are from or what languages they do and don't speak . Or dream in. I dream of asking them the question that the whale asked the scientist when it learned to communicate: "Do all oceans have walls?" just to see what responses I'd get. My response to the whale: "No. Some oceans are as limitless as you are."

1 comment:

  1. I'm laughing out loud because I can just hear this "what language do you think in" exchange. Unfortunately, I'm all too aware of where I am when I wake up every morning. Whether it is the guy who has turned his F-150 into a redneck white-pride float (complete with parade size rebel and American flags as well as FUCK THE FRENCH and FUCK TERRORISM bumperstickers) showing off his new horn that plays "Dixie" every morning or the neighbor across the street who let his giant dogs out in the yard at 4:30 am to bark, I roll over and wish for red sparkly shoes that would respond to "there's no place like Fiji....".

    Speaking of expensive Danish footwear---the chill in the air here has me getting out my Dansko clogs and concentrating desperately on not falling off of them.

    Miss you!
    Minerva

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