Monday, March 12, 2007

I Live in Outer Space, Perhaps in a French Colony

It has begun to seem to me that the PhD is not a requirement for becoming a classic Absent-minded Professor. Not only do I invariably forget why I have gotten up (was I going to put on a sweater? look for a pen? open the window? take the laundry out of the washer?), but very often I have no idea what someone is saying to me, even when their diction is impeccable. For example, the student who asked me about cleaning. My mind was elsewhere, and I couldn't fathom why someone was standing next to me holding some plates and asking about cleaning. Did she want to clean my table or what? I went into a complete blank state, incapable of grasping why anyone would ask me about cleaning at the library cafeteria. It was somewhat after she said kindly, in English, "You don't speak Czech, do you?" that it occurred to me that she wanted to know where to put the dirty dishes she was holding. After all, I was thinking about something else, although I have no idea what.
I was recently heartened, though, by a reminder that I am not the only person who can't always understand plain, clearly uttered phrases that are well within my grasp. The other day I decided to order a French omelet, and clearly articulated "Já si dám francouzkou omeletu." I was a little surprised when the waiter asked if I wanted it sweet or salty, which is Káva Káva Káva's code for with fruit or with meat on it, but since the French omelet didn't seem like it should have fruit added, I said salty. I was a bit startled when a plate of French toast with meat and cheese arrived, but I ate it anyway. It made perfect sense to me that if everyone who comes in usually wants French toast and not a French omelet, the word omelet just disappears into the void once the French part has registered.

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