Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Language Barriers

So....I kind of unintentionally scared the crap out of a kid on the bus.   By just being myself. 

I feel slightly insecure now.

I think kids are great, so to have so obviously messed with this kid's mind, troubles me.

For some unknown reason strange children (as in, those not personally known to me) take a shine to me.  These little tykes--I'm bringing that word BACK (unless it never went away, in which case I'll just use it)--randomly approach me and usually try to talk to me, tell me about their new toy, tell me that they are out shopping with grandma because mom's home with Uncle Ned again, or they will just pick me out of a crowd and I am the object of their focus.

And because small children are so darned honest and don't have that whole "you're different than me, so I'll stare or ask inappropriate questions" filter, my first reaction to their stares is to run my hands over my face nervously, checking for something weird that may have sprung up since I last looked in the mirror.

Sudden beard? Goiter? A new eye?  WHY IS THIS KID LOOKING AT ME?

And except for that third nostril, my face is normal and I can't figure out why they continue staring.  It's not like I'm walking around crafting balloon animals or handing out fluffy cones of cotton candy.  There is no reason I should be interesting.

But apparently I am.

I was waiting at the bus stop, and a father with his two sons struggled towards me.  He and his oldest son (about 7ish) were absolutely weighted down with the Migros selection of beach paraphernalia, while the youngest son (about 4ish) tripped along merrily dreaming about the beach/pool/puddle they were headed to.

When they got to the bus stop, the dad went off to buy the tickets, the older boy took out his sand rake and started raking the cement, while the littlest boy planted himself firmly in front of me and curiously looked at me with big blue eyes. 

I wasn't alone at the bus stop by the way, there were at least seven other people there.  One guy had a really gnarly beard, and was surely more interesting than me.

So as we waited the five minutes for the bus, I kept nervously glancing at this kid and wondering if my fly was open.  Checked my face, double checked to see if I was standing in front of a giant clown and hadn't realized it.  Nope, still just me looking as normal as I get standing in front of a plain fence. 

And the child (who I shall forthwith call Joey, though his name was probably something like Hans) just continued to stand and stare at me.  Joey's gaze could not be broken, and even his dad started to look my way and wonder what was up.  And I kept hoping he'd call him off, but I could tell that dad was visualizing the long day ahead of him and was content to let Joey keep staring at a stranger.

When the bus came, I got in at the front, and dad, older-brother-who-rakes-cement, and Joey all got in at the back.  But as the bus lurched forward, little Joey fell into the seat beside me, and gave me a HUGE grin and continued starting at me.

What was I to do but nervously smile back?  And pray he didn't talk to me. I was fairly confident Joey didn't speak English.

Dad and older brother struggled to where Joey was, and they sat in the seats next to us.

I looked out the window, and that's when a little pipsqueak voice started talking.

Please let him be talking to his dad or his cement-raking brother.  Please. Please. Please.

The talking briefly stopped, then the little pipsqueak voice sounded again. 

I don't know what you're saying.  Stop talking to me.  I don't know if what you're asking warrants a smile, or an actual answer.  Joey, please!

Then a little sunburned hand reached out and anxiously tapped me on the knee, trying to get my attention.  I turned and looked to him and gave him a little smile, to which I received again the biggest smile ever, and he spoke again.

By this time Dad is certainly looking my way, but he's giving me that "Don't you like kids? Answer my child's question," look. 

So I articulately trip over some German words and English words, telling Dad I only understand English at this point.

"Oh, I see."  He says in English, smiling like all is right with the world.  He says something to Joey, and then Dad gives me a grin and explains to me in really good English, "I have told him, you don't speak our language."

Well he might have just said I don't come in peace, because Joey is downright scared of me now. Little Joey slowly turns and looks at me like I've just morphed from some magical sparkling rainbow to a monster you have to look for under your bed before you go to sleep.

I went from being this....


Joey slides off his seat, crosses the aisle, and scrambles onto his dad's lap while continuing to stare at me, except now in utter terror.

It's just language Joey!  I'm not evil!  I know I don't speak German yet! But I'm trying!  Joey, please try to understand!

But Joey didn't understand, and he clutched his dad's shirt, while his cement-raking brother also joined in on the staring fest, and for five whole bus stops I felt like I like the biggest freak around.

"Oh, haha," Dad laughed.  "Now he is afraid of you."

No shit Sherlock.

To a four year old (?? I think) child the words coming out of my mouth must of sounded like a distorted version of Cookie Monster, put on super slow motion: "HHHMMM...I..LOOOVVEE----COOO----OOO---OOO---KKKIIEESSS---BE---AFFRRAAIIIIIDDD--JOEY--BEEE---AFFRRAAIIDD."

As the little family reached their stop, Dad stood up and cheerfully told me to have a nice day.  His efforts to get off the bus were slightly hampered by a terrified Joey who clung to his leg for safety, as Joey made sure to do his darnedest not to be left behind on the bus with the scary lady and her alien words.


Kristi said...

Do you recall the bully in "A Christmas Story"? On a daily basis the kids would run screaming away from him? I do that to kids because I have dogs. Kids here have strange dog phobia that I can't quite get my head around. I think it is scarier that there are no squirrels here. Just sayin.

mom said...

Too funny Cait! When are those German classes????

Ais said...

AHAHAHA!!!! That happens to me too! Kids will just stare at me, or come stand in front of me for no apparent reason! And everyone knows that me and kids dont mix (I tend to be awkward and too adult-like around children). Poor little Joey.

Caitie said...

Krisit--You are SO right, there are no squirrels here! What's up with that???

Mom--Not soon enough!

Ais--You are a tall freak. Acting too adult-like around kids. Pfft, everyone knows you are supposed to crouch on your knees in front of them and care about the fish sticks they ate for lunch. WORK ON THAT!

Caitie said...

I meant "Kristi".

M'dame Jo said...

It's a cute story and well told - well, not sure it's worth much coming from me, but I enjoyed it. I guess the kid was just too small to grasp the concept of a foreign language, and this is what confused him.

I was in my early 20s, on the bus. A women, slightly older than me, sitting in front of me, started smiling and rapidly clearly trying to repress a good laugh. After a few long minutes - the bus was crowded - she tells me "I'm sorry, but you make me laugh. Don't worry, you're fine, you don't have anything wrong, but you make me laugh". Once she said that, she must have felt free, because she started laughing out loud, still staring at me. People sitting around were also repressing a laugh - more or less successfully.

It was a very long bus ride.

M'dame Jo said...

Kristi > There are squirrels. Their different: smaller, darker and they get easily scared. You have to be quiet and patient to see one. The good thing is that no one considers them as a nuisance here, because they don't cause any, and are so tiny and cute ;-)

M'dame Jo said...

Eeeew. They're different.

*covers her face in shame*

Caitie said...

hahaha poor M'dame Jo! I think if that happened to me I would end up psychologically damaged!

Virginia said...

I love this story :-)

Learning German will help, really! It'll take a while, but if you keep at it you'll even start understanding some Swiss German.

Caitie said...

I cling to your words Virginia! Right now I feel like the best word to describe me is "duh???" And I don't even know if that translates to German!!! Oh, I need my language class to start soon...

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was living in Japan and at times felt like I couldn't grocery shop without making toddlers cry. Yep, they would start bawling in fright and run for their mommys for no other reason than because my skin was lighter than they'd ever seen before.

Come to think of it, I am a little pastey.

Xx Crystal