anyone who knows me will tell you that speechlessness is a problem i rarely face. whether opinionated, gregarious, loquacious, or simply long-winded, the words have always been there.
here in iran, i find myself trapped in a language limbo where i understand 90% of what i’m told, formulate a 100% response in my mind, and can conjure only 75% of the words i need to convey my thoughts. i laugh at jokes only when other people start laughing, i nod my head and smile to circumvent any direct comment i’ve misunderstood and for the most part my once happy flapper remains shut.
to call it frustrating would grossly underestimate my feelings on the matter.
“but ghazaleh,” you say, “i thought you spoke fluent farsi.”
well, i do. kind of.
from the moment i learned to speak the language, right here on native soil, it has been the primary mode of communication between myself and my parents. buuut, being a small unit, far from a core of iranian speakers needed for good practice, and diluted by years of life abroad, my family’s persian tongue has lost its edge. even the farsi my parents use to speak with their expat counterparts in the US is generously sprinkled with english words. so much so that I am at times confused as to which don’t actually belong (some words like “kite” “hot dog” and “online” have been adopted by in-country iranians).
besides that, farsi has two distinct modes of speech as far as an outsider can tell: the casual and the formal. ask me how to say “clean your room!” “leave me alone!” or “i’m starving, where’s dinner?” (common phrases used in my childhood) and i’ll sing like a parakeet for you. but should you need me to translate the news, read a line from a romance novel, or politely ask for someone over the phone, you’ll mostly get muffled mutterings. sure, all languages have formal phrases and advanced vocabulary, but in farsi the difference is particularly acute. so until my tongue “opens up” (as they say here) my main coping mechanism has become to insert the word “thing” at the weak spots in each of my sentences.
“i went to the office building for some files and the director said they didn’t have enough publications to distribute”
“i went to the thing for some thingies and the thing said they didn’t have enough things to thing.”
hey, it works for me. in fact, i can’t help but chuckle at the sound of myself, barely able to keep pace with a five-year-old.
oddly, my lingual deficiency has also yielded some unexpected enlightenment. i finally understand what the millions of non-native english speakers in the US must feel as they conduct their everyday business. no matter that i’ve had years of formal education, that i succeed at a job that requires some degree of intelligence and adept communication, and i am the biggest bookworm this side of the library sciences; when my words fall short and my accent reveals itself, people automatically discount my capabilities as a whole. how do i know? from looks i’ve gotten, from comments i’ve overheard, and from interacting with my cousins who, albeit in jest, never let me forget that my farsi just doesn’t measure up.
it’s been tough, but don’t worry about me…as soon as I start thinging, you better believe that my thing's gonna thing the thingies!
or something like that.