Language Like a Boss

Here's something that happened back in March....


A year in my apartment and I still hadn’t gotten anything hung on any walls, partly because my walls are wallpaper over concrete, partly because I needed some picture frames. Custom made, because the pictures are odd dimensions. Lucky me, there is no shortage of craftsmen in this city, for everything from picture frames and electronics to shoes and clothes. So, off I went one Saturday.  


I got to my destination, a sort of permanent open-air souvenir mini-market, and immediately spied a multitude of picture frame samples. I approached the seller, and in the local language said, “I want two picture frames.” He told me to follow him. That I didn't understand right away, but the gesture was clear. He repeated a sentence in which all I got was 'come to…’. He spoke a little English, so when I looked confused, he explained the other word was like office. In hind sight, I think the exact translation would be ‘workshop’.  


So, I'm following this gentleman away from the street, away from the people, and I'm getting a little nervous. After about a minute though we were in a small, low-ceilinged one-room structure with lots of picture frames and a couple more people, including another woman. I felt ok again.  

The man I'd followed turned to a guy at the work table and said … something. I caught 'this girl’ ‘[local language]’ and ‘doesn't speak'. The other guy responded with something about 'Russian'. At which point I piped up, “I don't speak Russian,” a phrase I use a lot. The look of surprise was great. The first guy laughed pretty hard, he had tried to play a joke on his buddy, I guess.  


Then we got down to business comparing frames, me saying things like, “my wall is blue” and, “I want the same frame for both.” “No matting, but yes, I want that edge of white, please.” Speaking is one thing, but I also understood when the gentleman told me, “this frame isn't bad” or, “If you want different ones, I'd say this one for this picture and the other for that. But if both the same, then this one,” and so on. Finally, we came to paying, and I asked when they would be ready. One hour, and the equivalent of $14.30 (including glass). Mom, I challenge you to beat that, even with a coupon. 

Next, I headed back to the street where they were selling traditional drinking horns. I needed one that holds 400 ml for my German friend. I asked who the seller was, and explained what I wanted. I also had to answer questions about where I am from, how long I've been here, how old I am, and if I have a husband. After deciding on and purchasing a set of horns, I still had 30 minutes to kill, so I rewarded myself with coffee and a donut at Dunkin’s (yes, we have those here:). It was a pretty successful day, with the added benefit that I was able to conveniently take public transportation, even with my rather bulky and awkward packages.  

I might have only gotten a total of 30 minutes of language practice, but the goals were accomplished. And now I have two pictures hanging on my wall.