Thursday, May 24, 2012

New York Babel, or the Multi-Lingual Hazards of Getting Coffee

You Know You're In New York When...
Getting coffee makes you seem like an insensitive ass.

I took a different subway route to work today just because I had a coffee craving.  I’m no coffee connoisseur, nor am I a coffee addict or even a regular coffee drinker.  BUT, on those early mornings when it was exceptionally difficult to make my way to Lenoir City to teach students who didn’t really want to discuss sentence structure, thesis statements, or William Faulkner, I would stop by the grand, classy establishment of Dunkin’ Donuts for some empowerment, courtesy of french vanilla coffee. 

On a drizzly New York morning, the fourth in a row of humid, depressing city mornings, I   wanted some warmth from nostalgia and coffee love. I rode the A all the way to the  Times Square stop, emerged in front of the New York Times building (for a moment, yes, pretending that I was important enough to enter and/or work there), then entered the combined Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins franchise on 40th.  Surprisingly, no line.

I walked up to the register and ordered my small coffee.

“Would you something something something something?” said the woman behind the register.

“Pardon me?”

The cashier looked at me reproachfully. “Words I don’t understand and many of them — many of them — all ending in a rise in pitch QUESTION?”

See, the cashier was a cute yet unhappy (unimaginable, right?  Seeing as how she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts during the morning rush hour...) Indian girl with an incredibly thick accent.  On top of that, however, she had a lisp.

With the proper amount of kindness, asking someone to repeat themselves once because they have a heavy accent is understandable and even, perhaps, considerate.  Asking more than once just makes you seem like an uneducated, isolated, “Amurica”-lovin’ fool.

So I decided to pretend I understood. “Yeah.”

She looked at me disgustedly.  Clearly answering in the affirmative was not an answer option. So she repeated herself again, very slowly, as if talking to the elderly or the mentally handicapped.  Or both.

I still didn’t get it.

Somehow, I managed to get my coffee (half-filled), feeling like a jerk while simultaneously being convicted that I need to travel more. While one of my absolute favorite aspects of New York City is the incredible diversity, its fascinating mix of people, culture, and language that somehow work is also sometimes a hazard.

Of course, if I’m experiencing guilt over being an insensitive ass, then it probably reveals that I am not yet a New Yorker.

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