I have learned something new, and very helpful. I have this little problem here in Moldova. The problem is that I pick up parts of the local languages really easily – like pronunciation and frequently used phrases. I pick them up so well that people assume I’m from here.
Well, obviously, I’m not. And that causes a great deal of frustration for other people. They assume I’m Moldovan, they begin speaking rapid-fire and I get lost. My eyes glaze over, I try to stop them, but they don’t want me to interrupt, and the next thing I know they’re exasperated with me, or worse – treating me like a fellow-Moldovan who just happens to be a moron, and yelling at me for being an idiot.
A while back I tried something with my neighbor, who only speaks Russian. When she knocked on the door I told her up front that I don’t speak Russian. And then as I tried to make sense out of what she was saying, and answer her questions, I ‘dumbed down’ my Russian, stuttered, and purposefully used incorrect grammar. I even pretended I didn’t know the days of the week. (Hmmm… Monday… Iz zat, uhhh, tomowow?) My Russian is pretty poor to begin with, so it was easy.
I never thought to try it in Romanian, until hubbs suggested that I do it any time I’m on the phone. This morning I called a clinic that does CTs and MRIs and things like that, to schedule Bruiser for an exam. I ‘dumbed down’ my Romanian quite a bit, stumbled over words on purpose, spoke ridiculously slowly, and do you know what? The receptionist I talked to – who, by definition should be curt, unhelpful, and horribly rude – was friendly! Polite. Patient. She spoke slowly. She gave me another number to call and as she gave me the number she asked me to repeat it back to her to make sure I wrote it down correctly. If you don’t know Moldovan culture you might think that’s just a coincidence – I happened to find a receptionist who treats everyone that way. But no. I think it’s in the job description that they’re supposed to make any callers or potential patients feel like the ooze that grows on pond scum.
Dumbing down my ability to speak the language worked so well that I think I’ll use it more often. My friends will still get ‘me’ – speaking to them well and trying hard to learn the language better. But in official situations where I have to get things done, I’ll be faking ze bad accent, all ze while apologizing zat I’m verry verrry sorry for butchering zeir beautiful language.