Adventures in multiculturalism.
We're a funny lot, we Americans. Most of us speak a single language, and a good portion of us who are monolingual are actually disinterested in speaking a second one. I've got a smattering of Spanish, and can rattle off, with apparently perfect pronunciation, the phrases necessary to conduct a traffic stop. Open-ended questions are pretty much futile, though.
In Heinlein's book Podkayne Of Mars, the narrator notes that it is incredibly useful to simply be able to utter salutations, thanks, and goodbye, in any language you might encounter. People want to like each other, and hearing that another has taken at least that much trouble lets us like each other. My friends are amused that I can say howdy in Korean, and then say thank you when I get extra donut holes with my sausage roll. Sometimes using a phrase in an immigrant's home language starts interesting conversations.
A few weeks ago, I got a call to a citizen's house, regarding what would eventually turn out to be a civil issue. When I arrived, her land lady, an older Vietnamese woman, was there. My caller, who herself was quite American, had strangely decided that the very few minutes between calling for the police and my arrival (Perhaps 7 minutes? It was a low priority call.) would be the right time to wash her dogs. When I arrived and was let into the house, she was on her knees, scrubbing a pair of very nervous little useless fluffballs of some unknown breed. I tried to talk to her about why I was there, but was having trouble hearing her because: the water in the tub was running full blast, the echo in the bathroom was terrible, she was facing away from me and grunting as she scrubbed the little mutts, and she was mumbling and slurring her words from her dose of pain meds and anti-anxiety meds. I caught something about a family member having stolen a very large check that she had inexplicably written and left at the house. I told her that the first thing we needed to do was cancel the check. She murmured "Mmm hmmm..." and kept scrubbing her dog. Never so much as looked over her shoulder at the cop she had summoned to her house.
At this point, the elder little Vietnamese lady brushed past me into the bathroom, and began berating her: "You stop washin' doggies righ' naow! Stop it! Policeman is heah. You talka policeman, righ' naow!" She shouldered her way between my caller and the dogs, muttering, "Stupid dogs no needah bath righ' heah, anyhow! Usa hose in back yard! Mo' bettah!"
I could have readily kissed that little Indochine lady on the mouth. Damn, but she cut to the chase.
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My online pal Stingray has unfortunately not enjoyed such pleasure, in his meeting persons from the Near East via the telephone. If you ask me, he's clearly a xenophobe. (A frickin' funny xenophobe.)