I'm not even sure how to explain myself in this post... yesterday I got the oddest compliment.
I work in an industry where you meet people from all walks of life- and this area is quickly becoming a melting pot of people from across the world. Seriously, there are tons of people flooding in from war torn countries. I find that when you meet people who are in an uncomfortable situation (the Emergency Room?) and they speak very little English, it's very comforting to them to hear even a word or two that they recognize.
So I try to know how to say a few words in any language I come across. I'm not fluent in anything- even English- which is my native language and college major- I screw up every now and again. I know the teeniest bit of Spanish. Enough to ask where the bathroom is and and order two beers (and I'll never get to use that one because I don't drink- and if I ever did start drinking, it wouldn't be beer).
Ok, I speak a tad bit more than that. But don't tell my co-workers that because then they'll expect me to register all the Spanish speaking patients and I don't speak it well enough to feel comfortable doing that.
I know a bit of French (thank you Lady Marmalade [another phrase I'll never be able to use]) and even some Creole. I can count to three in Japanese... or maybe it's four. I can also say 88 because it's funny and easy to remember. I learned how to say "I love you" and "Big Bird" in Chinese (don't ask which dialect because I totally don't know) by watching Sesame Street movies, and I can say hello in almost every Polynesian language. I can't exactly remember which greeting goes to which island... but I know most of them.
"Buongiorno Principessa" is a phrase that pretty much anyone who watches foreign films knows (of course, in Italy, they just call that one a film) and I can pronounce most of the foods correctly when I order at the Olive Garden.
I can tell someone to shut their mouth in three different languages. I can wish you a Merry Christmas in at least four, and yell at you in German that "I Love You" but "Kissing is Forbidden". I can tell you in Russian when there is danger and greet you in Latvian.
I used to be able to say some things from a tribe in Ghana... but I tried them out once and the person had no idea what I was saying so I stopped trying. I can still say it- but if he couldn't understand, then I'm clearly not saying it right, although it sounds exactly the same to me as how he said it. I also used to know the whole Pledge of Allegiance in Sign Language but I've forgotten most of it- but I know a few signs (not all obscene).
The funny thing is, even though I don't really speak a second language, I've often gotten compliments on my accent. My friend tried to teach me French on our drive from Idaho to Colorado. I couldn't tell you what he taught me, only that he complimented my accent. When a girl from school was teaching me some Latvian phrases, she said I sounded native my accent was so good. Yesterday at work, I was talking to an patient who spoke Arabic. I know two words in Arabic. That's all. Hello and goodbye (or at least their general equivalents)
As I walked from the room, he asked "Did you spend time in the army?"
"No" I replied, trying to figure out where the heck that came from.
"Oh, your accent is just so good that it sounds like you spend a lot of time speaking it."
I take that as a huge compliment! I think it's just my ear. I hear the way it's said I and just copy it. Which really bugs me about the one from Ghana- because it sounds the same to me... ugh... I guess I need to work on that one. I also need to come up with some words in Vietnamese, Nepali, Farsi, and Korean. That will be my next goal I guess...