Friday, August 17, 2007

Bonjour, Czech Please. Todah.

These days, I can't speak any language I may have once known. My English vocabulary is rapidly diminishing as my Hebrew vocabulary slowly grows. I remember the days of the week and a few songs in Spanish from elementary school and maybe a few Czech words on occasion. The only language that seems to come out with any coherence, is oddly enough, high school French. Although as I sit here writing, looking for a funny French phrase to tell you - I can only think in Hebrew. C'est la vie.

When I lived in Prague in 2004, I faced daily challenges with the language and culture of the city. In the Slavic language family, Czech was unlike any language I had ever studied before - the grammar so unique, that my own name had to be conjugated in certain tenses. Instead of Jen, I was Jene. My friends David and Nina became Davide and Nino. We slowly shivered our way through the Czech winter, building new identities with the additional letter at the end of our names. Another significant challenge was the Czech computer keyboard, on which many letters and punctuation were not in the same places that my fingers had memorized in sixth grade keyboarding. Time and again, I found myself sending emails with my name signed as - Jene GubitY. It took me a good month to realize that the Y & Z keys were switched.

Similarly, in Israel, daily I am confronted by a language barrier. All of the Hebrew training I had growing up could not have truly prepared me to communicate here. Sure, reciting the Torah blessing got me a Bat Mitzvah, but they don't hold court when ordering food or paying for a taxi. It turns out my Hebrew minor at Indiana U. hasn't served me entirely well either - possibly because we went to our lone Friday class still dressed in pajamas and half asleep. Sorry Professor Katz.

At restaurants, I've been trying to order off of the Hebrew menu, know as the Tafrit. Unfortunately, the words for napkin, Mapit, and menu sound similar to me. Last week, I asked for a "Mapit Ivrit" - a Hebrew napkin. Sometimes I ask for a "Capit Ivrit" - a Hebrew teaspoon, too. As an international language, English words regularly show up in the Hebrew language, but obviously written in Hebrew characters. Most recently, I debated ordering what sounded new and exotic. I sounded out the letters over and over...Sh....riiiii M Psssss. Hmmm....Shriii Mpsssss....OH. Shrimps. Not quite as appealing as I had thought.

In a cab last week, I tried to make a tiny conversation with my driver. As usual, I was having trouble remembering a few words that would make my sentences more than jibberish. I tried to tell the driver I was having trouble finding the words. First I said - "I "return" the words" because the words for return and remember are nearly identical. I realized I had the wrong choice of wording - and corrected myself. "I No Remember! " Really, at this point, there was no turning back. Its true. I had forgotten the word for - to forget.

The words I love the most in Hebrew, I overuse to the best of my ability. "STAM" is a throw back to a Wayne's World-esque "NOT" or "SYKE" and I try to use it in all of my compositions. Most memorably, one day, lacking any ability to form sentences and really praying for Ulpan to end early, I intended to tell my teacher that I had had enough for the day and was ready to leave. What came out? "Cheshbon, B'vakasha. Check Please."

Have a wonderful day,
Jennifer Gubity

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jen Gubitz: College Expert...or maybe just College Graduate...

Although only 25% of what I actually wrote was published and this piece doesn't reflect my writing style in anyway - they paid me by the word, so I'm already over it.

Campus Life 014: Jewish Adventures for All Seasons / Jennifer Gubitz

In other news, Leslie Gubitz heads to Indiana University next week.

(A long overdue post will occur in the next day...)