هات داگ و غازهای وحشی

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 2

هات داگ و غازهای وحشی

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  • زمان مطالعه 8 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Hot Dogs and Wild Geese

Moving to America was both exciting and frightening, but we found great comfort in knowing that my father spoke English. Having spent years regaling us with stories about his graduate years in America, he had left us with the distinct impression that America was his second home. My mother and I planned to stick close to him, letting him guide us through the exotic American landscape that he knew so well. We counted on him not only to translate the language but also to translate the culture, to be a link to this most foreign of lands. He was to be our own private Rosetta stone.

Once we reached America, we wondered whether perhaps my father had confused his life in America with someone else’s. Judging from the bewildered looks of store cashiers, gas station attendants, and waiters, my father spoke a version of English not yet shared with the rest of America. His attempts to find a “vater closet” in a department store would usually lead us to the drinking fountain or the home furnishings section. Asking my father to ask the waitress the definition of “sloppy Joe” or “Tater Tots” was no problem. His translations, however, were highly suspect. Waitresses would spend several minutes responding to my father’s questions, and these responses, in turn, would be translated as “She doesn’t know.” Thanks to my father’s translations, we stayed away from hot dogs, catfish, and hush puppies, and no amount of caviar in the sea would have convinced us to try mud pie.

We wondered how my father had managed to spend several years attending school in America yet remain so utterly befuddled by Americans. We soon discovered that his college years had been spent mainly in the library, where he had managed to avoid contact with all Americans except his engineering professors. As long as the conversation was limited to vectors, surface tension, and fluid mechanics, my father was Fred Astaire with words. But one step outside the scintillating world of petroleum engineering and he had two left tongues.

My father’s only other regular contact in college had been his roommate, a Pakistani who spent his days preparing curry. Since neither spoke English but both liked curries, they got along splendidly. The person who had assigned them together had probably hoped they would either learn English or invent a common language for the occasion. Neither happened.

My father’s inability to understand spoken English was matched only by his efforts to deny the problem. His constant attempts at communicating with Americans seemed at first noble and adventurous, then annoying. Somewhere between his thick Persian accent and his use of vocabulary found in pre-World War II British textbooks, my father spoke a private language. That nobody understood him hurt his pride, so what he lacked in speaking ability, he made up for by reading. He was the only person who actually read each and every document before he signed it. Buying a washing machine from Sears might take the average American thirty minutes, but by the time my father had finished reading the warranties, terms of contracts, and credit information, the store was closing and the janitor was asking us to please step aside so he could finish mopping the floor.

My mother’s approach to learning English consisted of daily lessons with Monty Hall and Bob Barker. Her devotion to Let’s Make a Deal and The Price Is Right was evident in her newfound ability to recite useless information. After a few months of television viewing, she could correctly tell us whether a coffeemaker cost more or less than $19.99. How many boxes of Hamburger Helper, Swanson’s TV dinners, or Turtle Wax could one buy without spending a penny more than twenty dollars? She knew that, too. Strolling down the grocery aisle, she rejoiced in her celebrity sightings—Lipton tea! Campbell’s tomato soup! Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Frosting! Every day, she would tell us the day’s wins and losses on the game shows. “He almost won the boat, but the wife picked curtain number two and they ended up with a six-foot chicken statue.” The bad prizes on Let’s Make a Deal sounded far more intriguing than the good ones. Who would want the matching La-Z-Boy recliners when they could have the adult-size crib and high-chair set?

My mother soon decided that the easiest way for her to communicate with Americans was to use me as an interpreter. My brother Farshid, with his schedule full of soccer, wrestling, and karate, was too busy to be recruited for this dubious honor. At an age when most parents are guiding their kids toward independence, my mother was hanging on to me for dear life. I had to accompany her to the grocery store, the hairdresser, the doctor, and every place else that a kid wouldn’t want to go. My reward for doing this was the constant praise of every American we encountered.

Hearing a seven-year-old translate Persian into English and vice versa made quite an impression on everyone. People lavished compliments on me. “You must be very, very smart, a genius maybe.” I always responded by assuring them that if they ever moved to another country, they, too, would learn the language. (What I wanted to say was that I wished I could be at home watching The Brady Bunch instead of translating the qualities of various facial moisturizers.) My mother had her own response to the compliments: “Americans are easily impressed.” I always encouraged my mother to learn English, but her talents lay elsewhere. Since she had never learned English in school, she had no idea of its grammar. She would speak entire paragraphs without using any verbs. She referred to everyone and everything as “it,” leaving the listener wondering whether she was talking about her husband or the kitchen table. Even if she did speak a sentence more or less correctly, her accent made it incomprehensible. “W” and “th” gave her the most difficulty. As if God were playing a linguistic joke on us, we lived in “Vee-tee-er” (Whittier), we shopped at “Veetvood” (Whitwood) Plaza, I attended “Leffingvell” School, and our neighbor was none other than “Valter Villiams.” Despite little progress on my mother’s part, I continually encouraged her. Rather than teach her English vocabulary and grammar, I eventually decided to teach her entire sentences to repeat. I assumed that once she got used to speaking correctly, I could be removed, like training wheels, and she would continue coasting. I was wrong.

Noticing some insects in our house one day, my mother asked me to call the exterminator. I looked up the number, then told my mother to call and say, “We have silverfish in our house.” My mother grumbled, dialed the number, and said, “Please come rrright a-vay. Goldfeeesh all over dee house.” The exterminator told her he’d be over as soon as he found his fishing pole.

A few weeks later, our washing machine broke. A repairman was summoned and the leaky pipe was quickly replaced. My mother wanted to know how to remove the black stain left by the leak. “Y’all are gonna hafta use some elbow grease,” he said. I thanked him and paid him and walked with my mother to the hardware store. After searching fruitlessly for elbow grease, I asked the salesclerk for help. “It removes stains,” I added. The manager was called.

Once the manager finished laughing, he gave us the disappointing explanation. My mother and I walked home empty-handed. That, I later learned, is what Americans call a wild-goose chase.

Now that my parents have lived in America for thirty years, their English has improved somewhat, but not as much as one would hope. It’s not entirely their fault; English is a confusing language. When my father paid his friend’s daughter the compliment of calling her homely, he meant she would be a great housewife. When he complained about horny drivers, he was referring to their tendency to honk. And my parents still don’t understand why teenagers want to be cool so they can be hot.

I no longer encourage my parents to learn English. I’ve given up. Instead, I’m grateful for the wave of immigration that has brought Iranian television, newspapers, and supermarkets to America. Now, when my mother wants to ask the grocer whether he has any more eggplants in the back that are a little darker and more firm, because the ones he has out aren’t right for khoresht bademjun, she can do so in Persian, all by herself. And for that, I say hallelujah, a word that needs no translation.

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