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October 11, 2005

Problem Solver

Tom McLaughlin

They should learn to speak English. The" they", of course, are the newly arrived people who speak a different language and are from a different culture. They live in certain sections of Frederick where the smell of spice adds a delicious aroma to the night air.

The music broadcasts a cacophony of lyrics and instruments which transports one to warmer climates. The smiles and the eye twinkles of our new arrivals add an international flavor to Frederick.

Yet, they must learn English; just like I did. When I lived in Malaya, I learned, Malay. When I moved to Saudi Arabia, I was able to communicate in Arabic. The overseas Chinese taught me a smidgen of Mandarin. Well, at least, I tried. I became a great mime.

When I traveled throughout the world I tried to speak a few words of the appropriate language. It is, after all, their country.

One thing that helped me learn was the wonderful people who were willing to work with me in acquiring the language. There were some humorous episodes.

I was working on my Chinese and went to a friend's house and smiled and spoke what I thought was "I want to see your son" to the old grandmother on the porch. A few tears came to her eyes and she went inside. Out came my friend carrying a parang. I smiled and said the same thing. He doubled over in laughter. I was saying, "I want to kill your first son" I apparently had missed a tone or two.

Now I live in Frederick County and have an Indonesian girlfriend. She speaks Malay and my skills from 30 years ago came flooding back. When we go out, I babble in Malay and she communicates in English. Most people look at us and think, "Something is not quite right with this scene. She should be speaking Malay and he English." They look confused.

Yet she is making every effort to learn. But, many of her friends tell me they are received with impatience and hostility from some of the denizens of this area. They struggle with the language and people yell at them to speak English or go home. I know that most are trying but that the American will not cooperate or help. They live cloistered in their own neighborhoods, fearful of being criticized by the people who live here.

We can rectify that. When you meet a service worker who is obviously from another country, be patient and help them along. Assist them with the words they are seeking in a kind and gentle manner.

One of the more humorous misunderstandings in American that gives the impression we are a rude lot, involves the greeting. We say, "How are you?" And then "Fine! Thanks." Then we are on our way.

The newly arrived actually think we are really interested in their welfare and wish to discuss the events of their lives. They cannot understand why we leave.

There are other ways. How about a hearty Buenos Dias; or Knee How Ma to a Chinese; or Keif Hal lack Sedik to an Arab friend; or Apa kabar to an Indonesian; or Nama Skaram to and Indian.

You would be surprised to see the delight on their faces.

And then yours.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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