Sunday, August 12, 2012

آسف المتأنق، أنا لا أتكلم العربية (Sorry Dude, I Don't Speak Arabic)

I've been Kuwait now just a little under 5 1/2 months. When I had been in Germany about the same time I spoke and understood a lot of native-language. Granted, German was my first language and during the course of my life I've spent 13 years there; so it would be expected that I would pick it up rather quickly. Not so with Arabic.

There are a lot of differences between the two languages that have prevented me from learning more than a few cursory phrases, but when I thought about it the primary reason why I have learned so little Arabic is the fact that almost all of the people that I deal with speak English fluently and given a choice of another language would probably speak Hindi or Tagalog. Because of my neighborhood strolls with Falkor, I have learned many phrases in Hindi as well as the gestures that go along with them -- this owing to the fact that I live in a primarily Indian neighborhood.

Of the Kuwaitis that I have met gotten to know, most have spent long periods of time in the United States and as a result speak English at a very high level – – by this I mean their conversational skills include colloquialisms and slang which you would only pick up by actually being there. As a result except for greetings and farewells our discussions are primarily in English.

One advantage that I always had when traveling in Europe through France, Italy, Germany, and the former Eastern Bloc was that the alphabet used was the same as in English. In other words I could read a word and try to break it down to its base origin and figure out what was being said -- big note of thanks to Charlotte Naffin my high school Latin teacher. In Arabic that is not possible.

Arabic letters look nothing like their English counterparts, although some are close to appearing the same they have different sounds and work differently. Additionally, Arabic is written right to left versus my normal mode of reading which is left to right. So deciphering it is more like figuring out an encrypted piece of text than reading and therefore it makes figuring words out much more difficult. Although, in order to be functional I do know all of the numeric symbols used so that I can read prices and money. 

Looking back at the 20+ years of my life that I've spent living outside of the United States, I can honestly say that I feel more separated here from the native populace than I have living anywhere else. Part of that is because most of the people I deal with are the ex-pats who make day-to-day life work in Kuwait. I suppose if I dealt with a higher level of professional level people or if I worked in the oil industry or some other international trade that might be very different.  But it is what it is.

Ramadan continues and every day Saad tries to teach the office a little more of the traditions of the holy month. It is interesting because in many ways they relate to the holidays that I've celebrated for my entire life, to include Halloween. There is a night or two where children put on costumes and go out in search of gifts of candy. Granted, the costumes are not scary or of superheroes – – but other than that the activity is very similar. It is one of those things that unless you lived in a Muslim community you would never hear about.

Earlier this week my air-conditioning failed. It quit, as near as I can tell, at about 1 AM and it was about 2 PM the next day before was repaired. It was not pleasant. While living in Germany, I never had air-conditioning but there the temperature only exceeded 100° about one week out of the year -- so, it was survivable. On the day that my AC failed the temperature was over 120° and my apartment promptly heated up to over 100° and stayed there until the unit was repaired. I have no idea how people survive year without some form of cooling.

That's my take on life, until next week.


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