Posted on December 6, 2013
I’ve always wished to communicate fluently in a language other than my native English. Like many, I know a smattering of words in Spanish, Japanese, French, German and Swahili. I am confident that my rest room needs will be accommodated, my greetings conveyed and common curse words could be muttered under by breath in Mexico, Japan, France, Germany and Kenya. I am also confident that my worldly vocabulary will forever be limited to these few words. I continue to lean on my belief that with friendly enthusiasm and genuine interest, anything can be conveyed – it will just take a little longer.
In college, I briefly dated a young man who was of Puerto Rican descent. Understand that his attendance was legendary as his choice of higher education was located in the upper Midwest where Puerto Rican individuals were viewed as aliens. What attracted me to him was his ability to light up the dance floor in much the same way John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever. Every girl wanted to dance with him but every Saturday night for two years he chose me as his evenings dance partner. At the end of the second year of our dancing partnership, he invited me to his house to meet his extended family. I enthusiastically accepted and quickly found myself the alien. I spent the evening listening to friendly banter in a language completely foreign to me. I became Cheerful Stupid ; I sat quietly in a corner chair with a plastic smile planted on my face pretending I was comfortable with the situation. All the others present also spoke English fluently. They had neglected to account for the one person in the room who could only utter “Me encantaria bailar contigo” (I would love to dance with you), “Le gusta bailar gran” (You dance great!) and “La camisa poliester bonito” (Your polyester shirt looks nice). I quickly learned that these phrases limited my articulate footprint and I was left feeling isolated and awkward; except from 9-12pm on Saturday night when spoken language was unnecessary.
This was not an isolated incident. I’ve faced many similar social situations over the years and most recently at the local nail salon. It is owned, operated and staffed by first generation Vietnamese women who rarely stray from their native tongue. I am convinced the unrecognizable comments and giggles around me are aimed at my neglected cuticle or color choice of OPI nail polish. I become paranoid. I become Cheerful Stupid all over again and leave the establishment not in a state of pampered calm but in one of anxiety. To make matters worse, I paid for the service all for the low, low cost of $50 plus tip.
As we embark upon the holiday season and social gatherings amplify, please take a moment to survey your surroundings. Extend that consciousness and respect into the new year and should you detect the distinctive cheerful stupid grin, graciously engage that person fully into the conversation. That is unless they are happily floating across the dance floor.
Cheerful Stupid: https://my-faux-pas.com/2012/05/15/cheerful-stupid/