Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts of Immigrants

I was shopping in Friedmans Thursday night. I needed detergent. I asked a guy who was stocking shelves where I could find detergent. "Aisle 4". he answered in Slavic accented English.

I flashed back to 1973, when I moved to Italy. I had not learned much Italian. Asking for the most basic needs was very difficult. A dictionary can tell you the word for something, but it can not keep up with directions given in rapid fire Italian. At the end of the day, I was profoundly exhausted.

Years later, I had a job unloading trucks in a warehouse. The work was invigorating. At the end of the day I felt pumped up. i liked the workout. The boss decided I should work in the office. He gave me a book with specs and prices to memorise. I am awful at memorisation. The exhaustion i felt was identical to that I had felt in Italy in 1973. It dawned on me that mental exertion can be more profoundly tiring than physical strain. When the man answered me "Aisle 4", I realised how much work it took for him to be able to pick up English as a grown man who had grown up speaking another language. As we pass people in the streets, we sometimes lose sight of their quiet and hard won accomplishments.

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