Wednesday, November 15, 2006

forgive me for forgetting

Sorry that my posts this week will probably be revolving around grandparents, but it is far better than the other things I might whine or rant about. My grandfather and I talked last night. We usually have this standard routine when we talk: he asks me when I am coming to visit him, I respond with a vague "we'll see" in Gujarati, he makes a "hmmmppph" disapproving grunt, and it is left at that. I know that the "we'll see" thing sounds noncommittal and unsatisfying, but it is actually a family tradition. Our whole family generally responds with "we'll see." In some ways, it is a sign of adulthood. Growing up, I was always on the receiving end of the "we'll see." Can we go to the zoo next week? "We'll see." Can I have a Rubik's Cube for Christmas? "We'll see." Can I get a Cabbage Patch Kid? "Hell to the No." Okay, so I didn't always get "we'll see." But in general, in my family, you get a no or a maybe. There is no getting to yes.

Maybe it's because we take yes very seriously. Or maybe it's just because we are a bunch of fools. Either way, as aggravating as it might sometimes be, we have all gotten used to the response. So, I was taken aback when my grandfather's reaction strayed from our established script. He burst out, "So you're not coming for Christmas?" with such disappointment that it was jarring for a moment. I assured him that nothing had been decided. That was not satisfactory. Next, I tried misdirection, and pointed out that the bro-seph was a firm no. This just seemed to make my grandfather sad, so I decided I had better stop, telling him I would try.

In all honesty, I was frustrated with the conversation because it uncovered how much my command of Gujarati is constantly deteriorating. While I understand it without any difficult, my spoken Gujarati must be like nails against a chalkboard for my grandparents. They are, of course, extremely understanding because:
  • When I was nearly 3 years old, I went to India, and left speaking pitch-perfect Gujarati. When my father picked me up at the airport, he asked me questions in English, and I kept replying in Gujarati. Even though that should be ancient history, it somehow secured my grandparents' favor.
  • If you give me enough time, I slip back into a closer semblance of fluency, and my grandparents know this.
  • I try to speak to them in Gujarati, which is a rarity amongst their American-born grandchildren.
  • I am also the only American-born grandchild who learned to write in Gujarati, so they have misplaced faith that I will one day regain full fluency.
  • They are my grandparents, and they have no other choice.

Probably the most comical part of my language issues is that, occasionally, I throw Spanish into the mix by mistake. My grandfather speaks English, and my grandmother understands basic English. But neither of them knows a word of Spanish. So when I start babbling in Gujarati and pick up real speed, I inadvertently drop in a Spanish word, and confusion ensues. Likewise, when I went to Peru, every so often, when I was finally feeling confident that I could converse with a local in Spanish, a Gujarati word would find its way out of my mouth, and a perplexed que??? would follow.

Anyway, I guess I have to hunt down some flights now. I am actually going to try to hit two cities in Texas in one trip: H-town and Austin. Oh, and I have to get a ticket to Cleveland for January. I really know how to pick my destinations, don't you think?

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