I hope, dear reader, that having read one or two of my posts, you feel assured that I am an intelligent adult. I hope so, dear reader, because this might make up for what the bakery lady surely thinks of me. Imagine our encounters from her point of view. I walk in, with one or two children, clearly an adult, past his twenties even, with grown-up responsibilities. Then I open my mouth.
Bakery Lady: I wish you a good day! What may I do for you?
Me (pointing to one of twenty-five different loaves): Good Day! I would like that brown one please.
Bakery Lady: You refer to the 400 gram Rye Baguette?
Bakery Lady: [at this point I did not understand everything she was saying, but it involved, I think, a sale on miniature brown breads. That sounds reasonable, no?]
Me: Well, thanks but no thanks.
Bakery Lady: Very well. That will be 470 forints please.
Me, to myself, like in a Shakespeare play: How did my 340 forint bread become 470 forints? Is there some sort of sales tax I had previously not noticed?
Bakery Lady: Excuse me! Don’t walk off without this other piece of bread you bought!
Me, to myself again: What other piece of bread I bought? I only wanted the brown one!
Me, to Bakery Lady: Thank you!
As you can see, dear reader, there were some glitches in our conversation. I do not think that the bakery lady took advantage of my poor Hungarian to sell me an extra 130 forints of bread, which consisted by the way of a gigantic chunk of white bread for the equivalent of 60 cents. I think, instead, she was going through her usual spiel, perhaps a required spiel by the bakery she worked for, and I had just not kept up my side of the conversation.
I usually do not walk away from such conversations with a loaf of bread the size of a small child, but I frequently have to apologize that “I don’t know Hungarian well.” The other day, during a snowstorm, I bumped into the apartment building handyman and his wife in the garage. Fearing that I was about to drive off into something that looked like a shaken-up snow globe, the handyman began to say something to me. His wife interjected that I did not know Hungarian, but the handyman and I had conversed briefly before, and he insisted that I knew a bit. I vouched for myself that I know a little bit. As a result, for the past two days, I have been wondering to myself: what exactly did he say to me? Whatever it was, I assured him that we were not planning to drive anywhere. Either I appeared to understand better than I did, or I appeared to be a blithering idiot. I still don’t know.
You may know, dear reader, that my wife and all of my children who can speak, can speak Hungarian. I flatter myself that I and my two-year-old are neck-in-neck in our Hungarian language skills, but this probably isn’t true and anyhow it won’t be for long. I know that there are many people in the world who are not fluent in the language that almost everyone else speaks around them. I only comment here that it is difficult. I get by okay, but I am sure I do not sound like a guy who has a Ph.D. I don’t care about the bad accent that much; it’s my slaughter of the grammar and my limited vocabulary that embarrasses me. In English, I care about these things. In Hungarian, I am lucky if my interlocutor figures out what in the world I am talking about.
I am improving. In the meantime, what must they think of me? Assure them, dear reader, I am articulate in one language at least.