And Still We Manage to Communicate

I use my Merriam-Webster online dictionary every day, and sometimes I find interesting articles or interesting people wiriting them. In this case, both.

In an article called “An Oxford-Educated Southerner in Berlin,”*I was delighted to read about a journalist, Robert Lane Greene, who has lived lots of places—

Johnson City, Tennessee (birthplace)
Little Rock, Arkansas
Omaha, Nebraska
Marietta, Georgia
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hamburg, Germany
Oxford, England
Brooklyn, New York
Berlin, Germany
(and now London, England)

—speaks lots of languages**

fluent:
German
Spanish
French
Portuguese
Danish
conversant:
Russian
Arabic
Italian

and still sounds like the sort of person who doesn’t think he’s too cool for school (or me, with my one language), you know? I love this:

I use y’all freely, and will duel (pistols, dawn) anyone who tells me not to. My accent gets a little southern lilt when I go back to Georgia, where my father’s family all still live.

Those of you who know me well, though, will understand why this delights me so:

Being a rootless cosmopolitan has its upsides (never boring) and its downsides (the mind-numbing stress of moving itself). But I never quite imagined that a major downside would be the inability to speak without self-consciousness. In a given day, I speak baby-talk Danish and English with my 14-month-old, grown-up Danish and English with my wife, English with my 12-year-old, and both German and careful Euro-English with assorted foreigners at work. My old normal English—very fast, slangy, moderately profane, slightly mumbled General American, lightly influenced by decades in the South—is limited to my few intimates in Berlin.

I’m not rootless, but have traveled some and have a few friends whose first language is not my first langage, and others whose English is spoken with an accent definitely not mine. And still we manage to communicate.

*This article is no longer available, so you’ll have to take my word for it about the title and excerpts.
**I got this list from Greene’s personal website, which also no longer exists, though it was there in late September 2016, when I originally published this article on my other website.

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Little Round Planet …

Little round planet
In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed
Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see

—Bruce Cockburn, from his song “Child of the Wind” (1991)

I Have Had Enough of Winter …

From the kitchen window.

It’s 34° outside at 1pm, 39° when we left the house for the farmers market at 7:30 this morning. On our way home from the market we saw a homeless man, staggering down the Church Street overpass in the wind. In shirtsleeves.

While we had a late breakfast, this little squirrel sat outside near the fountain and feeding table with its front paws folded up close to its chest, no doubt wondering what had happened to spring and did we skip summer, for Pete’s sake?

Now Gerry’s outside covering up the rose bushes, and I’ve dragged the potted herbs up into a little nook by the back door. It may be April seventh where you are, the joke goes, but here it’s January ninety-seventh. Brrr.

We’re warm inside, but this will be a long night for many of God’s creatures. #enough #grateful

Do You Know Me?

Some years ago—back before I obsessively kept notes about these things—I read an interview with Frances Mayes (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame).

Mayes said that while she often asks about local customs when she travels outside the United States—how things are done and so forth—she is not often asked those things in return about the States. The reason, she believes, is because foreign visitors think they know us already. That is, our culture (think Hollywood) has been so vigorously exported that the rest of the world feels it already knows what our lives are like.

It’s something to think about.

Snow Day

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

 

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

 

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for—

to look, to listen,

 

to lose myself

inside this soft world—

to instruct myself

over and over

 

in joy …

—Mary Oliver, excerpt from “Mindful,” from Why I Wake Early (2004)