I met a refuge from the Ukraine once in San Francisco. His name was Mehrab. He learned to speak perfect English by singing Billy Joel songs for years while he was a brain surgeon back in his homeland.
Here, in the land of opportunity, he worked as a security guard for a department store.
Mehrab was a lovely, polite person with impeccable manners. I met him on the bus on his way to work.
We chatted the whole ride and decided to have coffee the next day. After coffee we wandered to the Presidio where he sang some of his perfect impersonations of Billy Joel and chatted about being a refuge.
Merhab said he had a friend with 2 children that was desperately in need of work. The man (also from the Ukraine) was a cabinet maker who did not speak English but his 8 year old daughter was a great translator.
I met the man and his precious daughter, Marianna, a week later after asking my landlord to give him a job in the building where I lived with my struggling, brilliant designer boyfriend.
Marianna spoke for her father and translated every question we asked with enthusiasm. “Oh yes!! We do any work job!”
Finally after about twenty minutes, the Father seemed uncomfortable with Marianna doing all the talking and spoke in broken English to the child, “Marianna, you …sit… little.”
She sat down and listened carefully as her father continued in Ukrainian with instructions. Then Marianna turned to us with a giant smile and said. “Show job. Show tools. Will be done “.
The man did amazing work while Marianna sat with her hands in her lap like a word angel waiting for someone to ask a question in English so she could be of assistance.
I never saw Mehrab again but the cabinet maker’s family invited me to dinner in appreciation for the job referral.
A friend, Margaret, came with me.
It was a wonderful dinner in a tiny, immaculate apartment where we were greeted by Marianna and her 5 year old sister with a cookbook that had recipes in English and Russian.
While the cabinet maker’s wife finished making dinner (including pie), Margaret and I sat with the girls, giggling at funny words in the cook book.
After the splendid dinner and much nodding and smiling in the only mutual language we all under stood (appreciation), my friend, Margaret attempted to say thank you in their language.
The cabinet maker’s wife was placing the pie on the table with little plates and forks when Margaret attempted the foreign language.
Margaret was as sincere as she could be and wondered why everyone looked so confused at her genuine attempt at “Thank You”.
After a minute of befuddled looks, Marianna burst out laughing.
“Why you say good bye? You not eat pie yet!”
By the way, if someone serves you dessert in another language, you may want to say one of these phrases instead of Good bye…
Khawp khun kha
Go raibh maith agaibh