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Speaking 40 Languages

Retirement Home Beth Gil Hazahav Photo by David Shai wikimedia commons

 I push the hot water button on the water dispenser to fill my coffee cup and turn to greet someone hobbling along on his crutches. The boiling water overflows and runs down my hand. I do a small dance of pain, mutter a curse and walk to where I usually sit in the coffee lounge, slopping coffee as I go.

"Good morning, Leon," says someone as I pass.

"Morning," I growl, watching a drop of coffee narrowly miss my shoe.

"Guten morgen, Leon."

"Morgen." I don't look but it sounds like Hans, the nice guy from the third floor.

"Buenas dias, Leon," says Paco, who always sits in the window seat. "Hola," I say, pleased at my knowledge of Spanish as it is spoken in Buenos Aires.

I'm halfway to my usual seat and rapidly running out of languages.

"Bon jour, ami," says Marcel, raising his cup as I draw near. I give him a quick smile, trying not to move my eyes from my stormy coffee cup. "B'jour, Marcel."

"Buenas dias, amigo! Como estas?" This guy's name is Leonardo, Uruguayan, early 90s, fit as a fiddle, drives like a maniac. "Because of the traffic in Montevideo," he once explained.

"Can I carry that cup for you?" It is the smiling Fatima, the Arab lady who is in charge of cleaning and order in the lounge. "Shukran, Fatima," I say, highly relieved at her offer.

I trail after her as she weaves through the chairs balancing the coffee cup like a pro and we pass through a knot of caregivers. Luckily, they all speak smatterings of Hebrew and the "Good morning" greeting is the specialty of these smiling people. I mean you wouldn't expect me to learn Filipino, Thai, Chinese, Sri Lankan and Indian with all their different dialects, would you?

Finally, I get the greeting from my own crowd: "Boker tov, Leon."

It's going to be a great day, after all… 



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Wednesday, 17 July 2024

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