Tuesday, November 15, 2011

But In What Sense Of The Word?

Turns out sometimes funny comes over and taps you on the shoulder.

I was on my way home from the train furiously retweeting Occupy Wall Street information and imagining all the haters reading and recanting because I am a fully formed adult with a clear picture of her place and power in the world. As I crossed a street I saw an older (older than what I do not know) Eastern Asian woman standing on the opposite corner talking on her phone. As I mounted the curb she reached out and touched my arm while handing me her phone.

I didn't want her phone. It was old and a flip phone and I already have a phone that lets me pretend I am conquering the world's evils. I don't need her phone. As she held it out, though, she said, "I don't speak English."


So I tried to scoot out of the way on the sidewalk as I took the phone. "Hello?"

The woman on the other end of the line spoke in perfectly fluent, somewhat accented English over a truly terrible connection. She was the direct sort. "I don't know where my mother is." OK, her sentence construction could be more nuanced but fortunately she got me and not some smartass.

I explained where her mother was.

Then I explained in a different way.

Then I explained in both of those ways but with some added details and emphasis.

Pretty sure the young woman still didn't know where her mother was but I'm also pretty sure that I gave her the tools to get to her. After a lot of repeating ourselves we decided that I would hand the phone back to her mother, she would explain where her mother needed to go, and I would point in the right direction.

I did it kind of out of order. I didn't want to be pointing while the woman was listening because that wasn't going to work. The poor lady was clearly already confused and frightened (and not a little brave, I have to say, we don't even use her alphabet for fuck's sake). So I handed the phone over but before she could engage I pointed strongly and repeatedly in one direction. And, yeah, I was kind of loud when I said, "That way! That. Way!" Because if you're loud enough the words sound the same in English and Chinese (I think).

At this point, not wanting to confuse the mother by hovering I left. Sadly I was many blocks away before I thought it through and realized there were a few things I might have done instead.

1. Waited patiently anyway and made sure the mother headed in the right direction.
2. Walked the mother the whopping 2 blocks to the corner where she was going to have to wait for rescue.
3. Not backed up into a pregnant lady when I started home again.

Well, next time I guess I'll know enough to do better.

Yeah, next time.

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