The ugly American

Yes, that's me.

As long as you're in the majority, you can feel quite noble about teaching English to an Iraqi family. You can even feel quite clever that from one week to the next, you remember (mostly) how to count to 10, say "thank you," "good bye," and "same thing" in Arabic.

But it's humbling when you barely scrape through a brief conversation in French, always desperately grasping for words and having to stop yourself from tutoyer-ing.

And it's even more humbling when you join a group several of whom could speak English to you but among themselves can also converse in Spanish, Portuguese and German.

That humility, however, is the key to getting beyond my sad communication situation. The embarrassment of never quite keeping up with what's going on. The ignominy of trying to speak -- and being wrong. The mortification of having worse grammar than a three-year old. The frustration that nearly all significant conversation is out of reach due to your limited vocabulary and even your banal attempts can be stymied by poor pronunciation.

Yet, to avoid the shame of being that ugly, ethnocentric monoglot, I must be willing that my speech be uncouth, inelegant, and imprecise.

There's really no way past it without going through it.

En avant!


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