Wednesday, March 01, 2017

It's all Greek to me

Growing up the way I did, my family and I were immersed in other cultures. We experienced non-American holidays. We traveled to far away places. We had friends from all over.  We learned languages.

My first language was Greek, though I don't remember any of it anymore. I still speak Spanish and though I was conversational in Hebrew when we lived in Israel during my early teens, I haven't retained it at all except for a few words (but I can still read it, oddly enough). 

My dad is also pretty good at languages, and he still speaks some Greek and Spanish. 

My dad is, shall we say, not a shy, retiring type. He is gregarious and talkative and likes to connect with people. He is a congregant in the church of finding common ground - you know that guy? He's a friend of mine! You're from that place? Hey, I've been there! You're Salvadoran? Let me speak to you in your language!

It's a wonderful quality. I am a sociable person, but it's not in my nature to strike up a conversation with strangers wherever I go. It makes me feel intrusive. My father, on the other hand, is more of a hail-fellow-well-met, unencumbered by an overdeveloped sense of embarrassment.

We like to go to Greek diners. There's one near my parents' house in Virginia that we go to for breakfast every Thanksgiving after the SOME Trot for Hunger. There are many near where I live, owned by a Greek guy who has a bunch of local diners and restaurants. We hit them up when we are all in New York City together.

And every damned time, my dad walks in and starts speaking Greek with the waiter, or the hostess, or the busboy, or whomever we happen to encounter. And almost every damned time, the person is from Guatemala or Minnesota or Long Island, and they have no fucking idea what he's talking about. 

My dad shrugs it off. It makes my brothers and me cringe. 

This past weekend I went to a play with my friend Christen, and we had dinner at a Mexican place beforehand. 

Our waiter was a young black-haired, olive-skinned guy who spoke with what sounded like a Hispanic accent. Denver has a large Hispanic community. We were in a Mexican restaurant. I felt like it wasn't a stretch to assume that he spoke Spanish.

When Christen ordered the chile relleno, the waiter asked if she wanted it crispy.

Bouncing with certainty and confidence, I asked, "como se dice "crispy" en espaƱol?"

He scowled at me and barked, "I have no idea."  I recoiled like a toddler who reaches for that second cookie, only to have her hand unceremoniously slapped away.

This is why I don't talk to strangers.

And apparently, I have become my father. 

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