Loving language confusion: Disrupting expectations

Who speaks what language can be confusing.
Who speaks what language can be confusing.

Today an Ethiopian-American friend came to visit. Since he wanted to experience something uniquely Minnesotan, we went to Karmel Mall, the premium Somali Mall in the Twin Cities and the whole Midwest US. If I want to have my Somali tea while immersed in Somali culture, this is where I go.

We managed to confuse the restaurant workers a bit. I greeted them and placed my order—all in Somali. They looked at me a little funny—not unusual.

But then they turned to my friend. With Ethiopian blood, he could easily pass for a Somali. They got no response from him, though.

Wuxuu yahay etiopi” “He’s Ethiopian,” I explained.

Then another young man came up to order, and he tried: still no response.

At this point, the workers attempted to continue the conversation with me in Somali, but I had already come to my limit of comprehension.

We bear so many assumptions about languages and nationalities, but it only takes an encounter with an odd couple like me and my Ethiopian friend to challenge these expectations.

When were your language assumptions challenged?

Photo credit: magzalez via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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7 thoughts on “Loving language confusion: Disrupting expectations

  1. I spent some time in Korea when I was younger, including with my extended family (on my mother’s side) in Seoul.

    One evening we went out to dinner with both sides of the family (my mother’s family/ anglo-Australian relatives as well as my [Korean] aunt’s brothers and their families) and afterwards all of the cousins were playing out in a lounge area. There were a lot of us of a mixture of ages, white Australian and Korean, including one of my cousins who was adopted from China.

    She was about three or four at the time and playing with one of our young Korean cousins who was about her age. As they were standing by the window, Hyon-Ji wandered away and a Korean lady came over to my cousin and started talking to her in Korean (presumably asking where her parents were).

    She was a bit surprised when I went over and we tried to explain, with her limited English and my limited Korean, that Peng-Peng (we still called her by her Chinese nickname for a long time) was Australian and couldn’t understand Korean! She doesn’t look Korean at all, but I suppose because she’d been playing with Hyon-Ji who looked obviously Korean, it was an easy mistake to make!

    I think we confused a lot of people because a lot of my time in Korea (I was about twelve at the time) was spent with our extended family(-in-law) and people didn’t quite know what to make of it because we weren’t acting like tourists, we were doing normal things with normal Koreans.

    On the flight back, by amazing coincidence we were both flights on the same ‘plane as two of my sister’s good friends from primary school in Australia, twins originally from Korea – their mother swapped seats with my sister on one leg so the girls could sit together, which raised quite a few eyebrows from the Korean and Singaporean air hostesses who couldn’t quite process a blonde, green-eyed Australian girl sitting with two Korean girls on a flight from Seoul to Singapore. “They go to school together.” “Ah.” “In Australia.”

    Even after we came back to Australia, it confused people for a long time (still confuses people) when I talk about my aunt or my “cousins”, both in Korea and Korean in Australia. There were several Korean students in my class in my first year of high school and one of my friends told them boldly, “Rachel’s Korean!” “No, she’s not, she’s Australian.” “Yes, she is, her family’s Korean!” “Actually, I’m not Korean, I just have Korean relatives…”

    I have a friend who looks Asian (Vietnamese parents) who can’t use chopsticks… I went with her to a Korean takeaway recently and they handed her chopsticks and me a fork… Then I thanked them in Korean and she in English.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Some (Mis)Adventures with Korean | Rachel's Ramblings

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