Language Barriers

3:39 PM 0 Comments

It has been a big couple of weeks here in the Hopkins home. We started Ulpan, each family member had their first trip to the health clinic, we had our first Shabbat guest, did our first online grocery order, first campfire (מדורה - a new word) etc etc.... There is so much to tell, so I am going to give you the highlights. Some funny, some frustrating, and some a little of both.

Here are 5 things that took me by surprise in the past two weeks....

1. The latest installment in the bus saga.

Tzippy's day care called to say that she was having loose stool and wanted to know if they could put her in pull ups. It was about 10:30 and she told me that although I didn't have to come get her now, I would need to if she had another loose stool (totally understandable).

I, however, was at Ulpan in the next town over without a car. I got nervous that if I didn't go back to Retamim on the 11:00 bus, I would have no way to get back until the end of Ulpan at 1:00. So I did as any reasonable parent would do, and walked to the bus stop to get on the 11:00 bus. This was my first time on the public bus and I was going alone so that Adam and I didn't both miss the end of class. Needless to say I was a little nervous about the logistics of paying and getting through the gate at Retamim etc.

I got to the clearly marked bus stop, counted out my bus fare--13.30₪--and waited. I noticed there was an electronic sign stating that the bus to Retamim would be arriving in 3 minutes (in Hebrew of course). I felt a little better knowing that the bus was coming. There were 5 other people waiting as well, I was in the right spot. I knew that the bus comes from Beersheva, stops at Revivim, goes to Retamim, back to Revivim and then off to Beersheva, so I assumed the others were waiting to go to Beersheva or somewhere along that route.

Israeli hitchhiking signal
Source: Haaretz.com
Three minutes go by and I see the bus pulling in. I start to get ready. The bus pulls in and makes a U-turn to be facing the correct direction. Then the bus slows down and drives right past the bus stop. I looked at the man standing next to me clearly confused. He started speaking to me in Hebrew and told me that the bus was going to Retamim first and not to worry it would be back in 10 minutes to go to Beersheva. I understood everything he said but wanted to be clear with him that if this conversation were to continue that I needed him to speak slowly. So I said in my broken Hebrew אני מבינה קצת עברית אני רוצה לנסוע לרתמים. (I understand a little Hebrew. I want to go to Retamim). He looked at me totally dumbfounded and said "You speak English?" I nodded. He continued, in a very condescending voice "well the bus doesn't stop unless you put your arm out" (put his hand straight out like an Israeli hitch hiker). I looked at him near tears at this point and said לא ידעתי (I didn't know). "Well, you should have asked someone. Now you can't get there."

Now let me be clear, the bus schedule, the permanent sign, and the electronic sign all said that the bus goes to Retamim. Now, I've never been a public bus maven, BUT where I come from these things indicate that a bus is coming and will stop so that people going to Retamim can board. What could I have possibly thought to ask? I looked at the man and said עכשו אני מבינה (now I understand) and walked back to class.

2. Having a 4 year-old translate for you.

I am sure immediately you all thought I meant my 4 year-old. That day has not arrived although I am positive it is not too far in the future. He has a friend in his Gan, we'll call him Yoni. Yoni speaks English at home and Hebrew the rest of the time. He has been a GREAT friend to our son since we arrived. The other day I was reading a baby book in Hebrew to our baby and two-year old, trying to translate it as I read. I got to לפעמים אני ער (Sometimes I am awake) and said I don't know what  ער (awake) means. Yoni popped out of the kids' room and said "I do." I asked him what it meant. He said "it means ער" (awake) thinking he was telling me the English translation. As I looked at him expectantly he realized that he said the Hebrew word and corrected himself "It means awake."

I guess that's what happens when you are bilingual. Sometimes you don't know which language is which.

3. Google Translate

Chinese oranges
Here at Retamim there is a Google mailgroup where everyone can email and it goes out to the whole yishuv. People e-mail things about upcoming community events, lost bicycles, house sharing (another thing that surprised me) etc... Someone sent out an e-mail last week that read: מונח מחוץ לביתנו ארגז עם תפוז סיני - מוזמנים לבוא לקחת, Adam put the whole thing into Google translate and got this in return: "Lying outside our house with an orange crate Chinese - are invited to take" Adam sent this translation out to the Retamim Google group so everyone could get a good laugh about it. The real translation was about a crate of Chinese oranges (kumquats) outside the family's home that they were offering people to take. Just goes to show that one actually needs to learn Hebrew and not try to get by on Google translate.

4. Home Phone

We have a land line. There are few people with the number. Okay maybe only one. Adam and I are not included in that group either, we don't know the number. There have been a few times over the last few weeks that it has rang and a recording of a woman speaking Hebrew was there asking for us to push this number for that and that number for this. I just hung up. A couple of days ago the phone rang and Adam answered. Next thing I know he hands the phone to me, so of course I assume that its someone I know or at least someone I could converse with. Nope. Some lady starts jabbering in Hebrew as fast as she could. I was picking up words here and there but honestly had NO IDEA what she saying. I was finally able to stop her and said. אני לא מבינה עברית (I don't understand Hebrew). She then asked if my husband was better in Hebrew. I said  לא, אנחנו עולים חדשים (no, we are new immigrants). She said "Oh that's nice, can you get someone who speaks Hebrew." Adam went next door and got our neighbor. We could then only hear his end of the conversation which was in Hebrew so again, I got words here and there. It turns out this woman had the wrong number and was calling to speak to אמא של מתן "Matan's mother". Adam was rightfully confused because that is our son's middle name, and so far everyone has called Adam by his middle name so the assumption that this person was merely confused makes sense. The information she was seeking we did not have because alas, we are not Matan's parents and do not speak Hebrew.

5. Playdates

Something that I did not anticipate having difficulty with, probably because I didn't even think about it was play dates. DUH its hard enough managing a play date with new friends when the kid does speak your language and you theirs. You still walk the line of learning what the kid likes to do, balancing your kid's needs with the new kid's needs, trying to be "likable" and gain the trust of a the kid while still maintaining the structure and boundaries that normally exist in your home etc... Here in Retamim (and I think a lot of Israel) children at a very young age are given a lot of freedom. We will call it a longer leash than I am used to.

The other day a boy from our oldest's class came over to play. On the way home from school, he and his dad saw Adam and Gavi walking back, so he dropped him off and they walked home together (without a kippah or shoes--our kids have started the no shoes thing also). The two boys went to the playground with Adam and our daughter. A little while later Adam came back to take our daughter to the bathroom. A minute later there was a knock on the door and I told the person to come in (I was sitting holding the baby), it was the boy's father, holding a kippah. He came in looked around and said where is Efraim (not his real name of course). I told him that they went to the playground and off he went. On a side note--I got a little nervous since Adam left the boys at the playground alone but I am pretty sure that is just me here, most parents here let their kids go to the playground alone. That whole short leash/long leash thing.

A little while later I walked over to the playground with the other two kids to see if the boys wanted to go to the library. I could easily ask my son this question. His response was "is Efraim going?" Hmmmm I wasn't sure, because I didn't know how to ask him. I used my little Hebrew to gain his attention and say בוא איתנו לסיפריה (come to the library with us--I think). He stood up and came over...SUCCESS.

Off we went to the library. Or so I thought, as we are walking (remember these kids are four they have short attention spans), Efraim veers off the path and starts playing, which of course lures my two off the path and so here I am wearing the baby trying to negotiate with the three kids to keep walking to the library. Not an easy feat since when I spoke, one of them only heard "blah blah blah." We finally got to the library. Yay other people that speak Hebrew and can tell this kiddo what I need to say.

We start looking at books and Efraim picked his out, went to the desk ... and then disappeared. At this point I had two fighting kids and a cranky baby. I checked out with my books and started walking home.

I think he went home.

I'm pretty sure he went home.

I haven't heard otherwise....

Next installment will be about Hopkins Hospital very soon.

Thoughtfully written by:

Rachel Hopkins

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