In the movie that is my life, this period in time will be filled with perfect material for the end of film outtakes. The bloopers and practical jokes that roll after the credits; that end up on disc 2 of the DVD set.
Hopefully, by the time such a movie is made I, too, will be able to laugh at the time when I was a consistent perpatrator of the Hebrew version of ”Who’s on First?”
Let me explain by example.
Here is a loose transcript of the cellphone conversation I just had with an Israeli parent of a friend of my son’s:
Me (“my” Hebrew translated into English for your convenience): Hello [parent’s name]. Speaking is Jen. The mom of Oliver.
Other Mom ( in 100 mph garbled cellphone Hebrew): Yes?
Me: You call me?
Other Mom: Yes.
Other Mom: No, I was talking to Tal blah blah blah my laundry.
Me: Um. Ok. Did you call me?
Other Mom: blah blah sent a message blah blah blah
Me: You sent me what?
Other Mom: No. I didn’t send.
Me: What you no send?
Other Mom: No, you sent me a message.
Me: Yes, yes, I send SMS with new cellphone number.
Other Mom: Oh, ok. I wanted to talk to you.
Me: Ok. About what?
Other Mom: No, no. I don’t want to speak to you. I was speaking to my son.
Me: Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.
Other Mom: (laughs and says in English). No, we will speak soon. Goodbye.
[END OF CALL. BEGIN SELF-DEPRECATION.]
Every single day of my life in Israel is an exercise in embarassment and humility.
It sounds a lot worse than it is. Daily humiliation by no means leads to unhappiness. I think, in fact, my willingness to speak Hebrew at all to these people is indicative of the fact that I am starting to let down my guard. However, as I continue to become more confident in speaking Hebrew to my friends, colleagues, and neighbors, I also continue to make lots and lots of mistakes. Something, generally speaking, I work hard at not doing.
Veteran immigrants to Israel, the folks who learned Hebrew 20 years ago in an ulpan, as opposed to “Jen Style” (ie. figuratively flat on her face with a dictionary in her hand) all recommend “making mistakes.”
“Don’t be afraid to speak Hebrew,” they tell me. “This is the way you will learn.”
The only problem with this advice is that most Israelis don’t have the patience for my learning curve.
When they speak to me in Hebrew (usually very fast), and I respond by saying, “What did you say?” they usually will do one of two things:
1. Tell me again, but this time in English
2. Repeat what they said the first time, just as quickly, if not more quickly, but louder
What I really need them to do is repeat it in Hebrew, but at the pace of a person who has just regained her use of speech after being in a coma for nine months.
On the other hand, when I try to speak Hebrew (and I deserve an A for effort these days), I find myself five words into my attempt and either:
a. I don’t know the word for…let’s say…”repulsive” in Hebrew and then I have to go about trying to describe what “repulsive” means using the limited Hebrew I do have. By the time I am finished with that task, I forget what was so repulsive to begin with. Or,
b. The person I am talking to looks absolutely and completely bewildered, though still hanging on to my every word hoping that by the end of my discombobulated, grammatically incorrect sentence she will be able to piece together something comprehensible from what just exited my mouth.
At the very least, thanks to a good job at a company in the hi-tech industry, I think I’ve managed to establish myself as a reasonably intelligent person…despite the fact that I walk around in fool’s clothing most days.
And considering that it must require a lot of patience for non-English speakers to interact with me, I suppose I should take it as a good sign, then, that some people continue to do so.
Hopefully, within time, we’ll understand each other, too.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.