Is She Hungry Or In Pain?

As a child, I remember being awakened in the early hours of the morning by the sound of the phone ringing, followed by my Mom talking loudly in Greek. I’d lay awake in my bed and try to figure out what she was saying. I could usually tell “who” she was talking about because I could recognize our names, and now and then she’d throw in an English word that couldn’t be translated into Greek like “supermarket” or “Kennedy.”

My Mom speaks fluent English – though some say she has a bit of an accent. I once corrected something she said and she told me, “when you can speak Greek as well as I speak English you can correct me.” Nuff said. She didn’t have anyone to speak Greek to on a regular basis, so we only heard the occasional one-sided conversation. Then there were vacations when we’d visit family or they’d come to us.

I have a pretty good understanding of Greek. Somehow my vocabulary has increased over the years and I can figure out most of what the people around me are saying. The taxi driver that yelled at me to today was not understandable, but I got the drift of it because I was in the middle of the road and he was trying to get by. He yelled something and I told him to come back and say that to my face in English. He kept driving. Chicken.

And now I realize I can read Greek, too. Understanding the vocabulary makes it a bit easier, although I get confused with upper and lower case letters. Subtitles appear on TV when English programs are on, so even though I understand what the actors are saying, I find myself reading the Greek out loud.

My Mom gets grief from everyone because I don’t speak Greek. So, for her sake, I respond in Greek to strangers whenever possible. Not teaching her kids to speak the Mother Tongue is an offense punishable by two hours of Greek music.

My greatest challenge is speaking Greek. I have the pronunciation down, so that’s not a factor. It’s the fear factor that has me by the vocal chords. For some reason, I can’t make my mouth say what my brain knows. Or, I respond in another language. Two years of Spanish, two years of French, three years of Afrikaans, 3 months of Italian, 40 years of Pig Latin, a lifetime of Greek, and English, are all filed away under languages in my brain.

Instead of “ney,” which is yes, I’ve answered “Si,” which is Spanish and Italian. Instead of “Yassas,” which is hello and goodbye in Greek, I’ve said “Ciao” and “Tot Siens.” And yesterday, when Mary (incredibly kind neighbor in charge of my Aunt’s medication) came by to visit, I thought she asked me if my aunt had been in any pain and I said, “ney.” What she actually asked me was if my Aunt had been hungry. Pinouw is pain- Poneye is hunger. There’s medication for pain and also some to increase hunger. Thankfully, my Mom intercepted my error before the medication was given. They all had a good laugh. Yeah…that’s the way to encourage me to speak Greek more often.


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