“Lost in Translation”
Language problems can be frustrating however, when you look back you can have a good laugh.
My mom used to tell a story about a time when she wanted to buy a broom, and my paternal auntie who had been in South Africa for a few years already, had told her it was called brush. So off she went asking the salespeople for a brush, and as you can imagine, they showed her all kinds of brushes. Eventually out of frustration, she ran out the shop, grabbed a broom out of a street sweeper’s hands and went back in with the poor guy behind her shouting, “madam my broom!!!”.
Another time, when I was 8 or 9 years old my mom woke us up late for school one morning. As we attended a catholic school (Nazareth House), she told us to tell the nun that the clock had stopped, and she hadn’t realised the time. As if the original message getting translated from a second language English speaker wasn’t bad enough, try getting a child to relay that message. The result was, “Mom said the clock went backwards”. Just imagine the look on the nun’s face!
Initially, my dad also didn’t have much luck in that department. He was a hairdresser and would often tell stories of getting into trouble at work. People would ask for a perm or a tint and he’d pick up a scissors to start cutting their hair instead.
Mom loved reading and started reading English as much as possible. She’d read romances and anything with pictures that she could find. Over the years she just about perfected her English. Poor dad was a talented man, but maybe not so much when it came to languages however, it did improve to a point where he could at least communicate. I also loved reading like mom. It was one of the subjects I was good at, and I feel this is what helped me with spelling over the years. Writing was of course more difficult for my parents as they needed help if they had to write anything down.
Off course the culture was also different as suddenly we had to call all adults “aunties” and “uncles”. In Italy only true aunties and uncles were called that, other adults were addressed with Mr, Mrs or Miss. So as you can imagine, I was confused and kept asking mom where all these relatives were coming from, but I don’t think she knew how to answer. One day I went to the library and addressed a woman as “auntie.” Surprisingly, she gave me a mouthful, and said she was “coloured,” so I shouldn’t have called her auntie. Understandably, I had no idea what she was talking about, which resulted in me ending up even more confused than before. I’m not sure how old I was, but I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. At this point, I didn’t know who to address as auntie and uncle, or when I’d get into trouble for doing so. I didn’t tell my parents because if I had done something wrong then I would have been in trouble at home as well.
“Not an issue”
In my family race was never an issue. No matter who visited us, we all sat at the same table and ate together. It didn’t matter if it was a just a visitor or someone who worked for us such as the gardener, the maid or a hairdresser at dad’s salon. Regardless of race, everybody was invited to our house at one point or another. In fact, people of all races came to offer their condolences when my parents passed away. My final thought is that we need to look beyond our cultural and linguistic differences in life. This could mean something as simple as just accepting or appreciating another person’s language or culture. Ultimately, our language and culture determine the way we see the world and is what makes every one of us unique. Keep laughing, keep smiling and thanks for reading.