Friday, January 29, 2010

a multi-lingual day (m)

Slept in until 7 a.m. as H was done with exams and did not have school today.   He decides he would like to take the test to get his driver's permit.

Arrive at the Registry of Motor Vehicles by 9 a.m. and the line is out the door.  H fills out the paperwork, gets a number, and waits to be called.  We look around.  It's a League of Nations.  Ethnic garb, native languages. 

Our number comes up on the screen and we approach the counter.  I let my son handle this transaction and wait a few steps behind him.  I can hear his entire interaction with the clerk.  They review the paperwork, check out his passport and Social Security card, and then take the picture for the permit.  The clerk looks at my perfectly American son (with whom he's already spoken for 10 minutes) and asks "which language would you like to take the test in?"  I wonder if he would be asked this question if we were in another country.  Aren't all the road signs in English?

After successful completion of the process, we head to the pediatrician's to follow up on the tonsillitis situation.  A beautiful little girl is in the waiting room, clutching a Happy Birthday balloon.  She has a wretched cold (rheumy eyes, phlegmy cough).  I just want to pick her up, she's so cute.  I say "Is it your birthday today?"  Her equally gorgeous mother says she turned three yesterday, but is still celebrating. I say "Happy Birthday" to the little girl.  Her mother explains that she doesn't understand English (although the mother is completely fluent).  Sensing my puzzlement, the mother explains that while they are from Bulgaria, the daughter attends a Chinese day care program.  So, she is most proficient in Chinese, then Bulgarian. "I'm hoping she will learn English soon!"  

Later that evening, I am getting ready to meet my best friends from high school for a mini-reunion.  I ask my husband to be home by 6:15 so we can switch cars (driving the bus is exhausting).  He gets home around 6:30, which makes getting there a little tight on a Friday night during rush hour.  I jump in the car and hurriedly plug the directions into the GPS.  I get to the end of my street and hear "droit" and "en suite" and "gauche".  Somehow, the genius I married has switched the language option from English to French.  I'm in too much of a hurry to begin trying to figure out how to switch the settings.

Driving on I-95 North, I am frenetically trying to recall my high school French lessons.  I hear Madame GPS say "vingt-quatre" about something...I think she's talking distance.  Vingt-quatre?  Twenty four?  Twenty four?  I'll never make it in time! My oldest brother Joe once accused me of thinking that I was Dr. Spock--able to manipulate the time-space continuum--because I would leave 15 minutes after an event started, fully believing I would arrive on time.  Even I know vingt-quatre is impossible.  I eyeball the numbers on the screen and then it hits me...the system is in kilometres. Bien sur!  One kilometer is about 0.6 mile. 

I make the restaurant with minutes to spare.  It's a high-end Italian place.  Here, I'm expecting the menu to be in Italian.

It's in English.

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