Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daily Challenges

I love language. Choices of words, phrases, even grammar can be exciting and make communication more interesting. As a speaker of the English language and a student of its literature, I believe I've got my own language well in hand. Yesterday, however, language was more of a challenge--and a reward--in two separate incidents.

First, during the lunch hour, I strolled in the new spring sunshine (ahh!) to the CBA, a small grocery store near the school. Motivated by the sun and feeling good, I picked up some healthier items: yogurt, fruit, etc. The curious trouble was, I had never purchased produce at this particular store before.

Each shop, stand, or grocery chain has a different system for weighing and buying produce, and I've got most of them down. The scale, bags, and layout of this CBA seemed not to communicate this particular system. Sometimes, I'll admit, when daunted I just put the produce back on the shelf and buy something else. But not today! When it came time to pay for my apple, I was able to explain that I wanted to buy only one apple but I didn't know what to Hungarian of course. (I do live in Hungary, after all.) The patient cashier responded that at this CBA, she weighs the fruit right there at the register. Mystery solved, and the apple was crisp and delicious.

Later the same day, I was thrilled to get a ride with a friend and colleague to IKEA in order to get the bookshelf so desperately needed to get my books up off the middle of the floor of my flat. I also had secret hopes of finding an affordable set of a tiny table and chairs for my yet unused but much-anticipated balcony. After wandering through the whole showroom and scouring the warehouse, I came through the line and bought just what I needed with the last of my birthday money. Perfect!

Or not. After having the usual interaction with this cashier, I discovered that he had charged me for three chairs instead of two chairs and a table. Simple correction! Or not. Slipping back into line, I haltingly explained the situation and was directed to customer service. After the usual waiting in line to which anyone in any culture could relate, I--a bit more confidently this time--explained the mistake to the customer service representative and was directed back to the cashier. A bit more confusion, a wry smile and apology from the cashier, the 500 forint ($2.50) difference from me, and another successful venture was complete at last.

In those moments, I was encouraged by the rudimentary yet useful language I was able to remember and use. The idea of summer language school or a language tutor has been in the forefront of my mind for a while and was solidified during these exchanges. I want to continue to thrive here in Budapest, not simply survive while within the walls of the English-speaking school.
Choosing to go outside, to get the item or service or whatever is needed, to engage someone nearby in brief conversation--these are difficult daily challenges that don't always go so smoothly or end so well but are incredibly valuable. I love the idea of learning a language to get to know and appreciate another group of persons in this world, but--to be honest--I don't always feel up to it, especially since I enjoy my firm grasp of the variety and nuance in the English language.

Broken, stuttering sentence fragments in a new language don't capture my personality, what I'm trying to say, or my true attitude in how I would choose to say it if more skill were mine. It is humbling to be the learner, and daily challenges take energy to meet. In these recent moments, though, I was energized and encouraged.


Andrea said...

I am impressed that you were able to tell them you didn't know how to weigh the fruit. I would have no clue. Your language school really did work even if you feel like you have forgotten a lot.

Heidi said...

Good for you! It must take a lot of courage to live in a country where it is difficult to communicate with the majority of the population. I'm always struck by how many different languages Europeans and others outside of North America speak--never just one.