Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The Russian-speaking lady I work with a couple times a week was gone on an appointment today, so all of her Russian clients kept approaching me speaking rapid-fire, geriatric-style Russian, mistaken that I might actually understand them.  The most I could muster was a smile and shrug as answer to where she was once they figured out that I don't speak Russian.

Not being able to answer them was getting frustrating, so I tried in my best, very rusty Slovak language to tell them that I thought she was coming back.   I sat among the African and Bhutanese elders I spend most of my time with until one of the meal volunteers came to me asking if I could help her figure out what one old lady was saying.    I said I couldn't but stood up anyway to try.

A short, toothless babushka in a paisley scarf started in with her quick toothless Russian, and, wonder-of-wonders, miracle-of-miracles, I understood enough words here and there to get what she wanted. 

She wanted a loaf of the day-old bread that is donated every week from a very fancy French bakery in town.   Her friends had all gotten one, and the plucky old lady had missed it.  I felt so relieved.  As we waited for the volunteer to bring a loaf, I attempted a few words of encouragement in my rusty Slovak: I hope it's there! We'll see! Just wait!

Ah, it worked.  The bread appeared.  Spasiba.


  1. I am terribly curious to know what you do for work. I am of the firm belief that being able to be even minimally polite in other languages is invaluable. If I can say "thank you", "please" "hello" in whatever language is needed, I feel like I am doing okay. My French, German and Hebrew are all disappearing and my 3 Chinese words were pathetically OVERUSED once upon a time. Still, I admire your trying and that you keep trying. Spasiba and a smile can make someone's day. Made mine just reading this post.

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