A friend asked what I miss most about home. I think she was expecting a long list of items, some of which she could mail to me, all the while not realizing that there’s no mailing anything directly to me. What she got was, “people who understand me.”
At first glance for an English-speaking expat this is a pretty cool place to be. English is everywhere, but beware an English-speaking person’s English is completely different than the Middle Eastern, Indian or Asian versions.
If you plan on getting anything done you will have to communicate with these new forms of English, which will soon have you pantomiming every time you speak. Sadly, I’ve caught myself doing this while on the phone trying to give a delivery man directions to my flat, which would be so much easier to do IF I could simply just give him an address to type into the GPS. Alas, we don’t have actual addresses here.
When I need copies I tell the copy girl “I want Eight Five (while showing the number 85 on a post it note) back to back (while turning pages) stapled (while flapping my fingers together as if I was throwing a shadow puppet show).”
Some of you might be wondering why I say I want instead of please or can you, which brings me to the next thing you have to do when communicating here: eliminate all extra words. They will only delay matters even more. Had I done this when I first moved here, I bet my cable wouldn’t have taken three months to install.
Writing sometimes helps, but not always. I needed something done at a bank and, of course, I had to fill out a form. Documentation is everything here — people may not know what you’re saying, but hey, they’ve got proof that some sort of transaction took place. Anyway, I filled out the form and gave it to the teller. He pushes it back to me. “No Miss. Please write all big,” (while pointing to my capital letters). “Don’t want to make mistake.” Three tries later — do you know how hard it is to write all caps? — I finally got it right, only to be told I put my account number on the wrong line. “Do again, but write number here.” I’m adept at writing all caps now.
As frustrating as this is for me, it’s doubly hard on the non-English speakers. Sometimes I go into a store just to be entertained.
“How much?” a poor soul asks another poor soul who has just been trained on the art of upselling. “You like? This (pulling out upsell item) Go nice with it.”
Mass confusion, pantomiming and raised voices (because for some reason, we all speak louder when someone doesn’t understand us) ensue. It’s a cheap way to get a good laugh while taking solace in knowing you’re not the only one missing being understood.