Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Iranian gas lamp and a German vacuum walk into a room…

One of the perks of being a TLGer is getting a free phone from the government. Sure, the phones are old school Nokia blocks (you know- those phones that don’t really have any special features but retain an incredible battery life of five days) but they’re free.

I got bored with my phone last week so I used a set of permanent markers to color all over the keys. Nini fell head over heels in love with my rainbow phone and asked if we could trade. With pleasure I traded my simple Nokia for Nini’s 4G Samsung with a camera, MP3 player and various other functions.

Having the phone was one thing; using it was another story. Even after three days I still couldn’t figure out how to answer a phone call without first hanging up on people twice in a row. Plus, responding to text messages was such a hassle that I basically just stopped talking to people in mid conversation.

The funny thing was that Nini had no problem with my phone. I thought I might have to show her how to turn off T9 word or set an alarm, but no sir. In fact, Nini practically showed me how to use my own phone.

As Nini played with my phone and deleted the Georgian-Ebonics (seriously it might be a new language) text messages from her boyfriend on her own phone, I became amazed at how quickly she could navigate a cell phone in a foreign language. I never realized how important ‘English cell phone’ jargon is to teenagers until I watched Nini plunder through her Samsung and add locks to this, and change the ring tone to that.

All of the cell phones in Georgia are programmed in either Russian or English, so basically in order to operate a cell phone here every person needs to know a bit of a foreign language. Take texting for example: if your phone only comes in English you need to text in Georgian using English letters (or is it more correct to say Latin letters?).

I have a Georgian friend in Tbilisi who doesn’t speak any English and he always sends me these long text messages that are written in Russian using English letters. The only way I can understand what he writes to me is if I read aloud his text messages. Not only does this ensure that I look crazy on the marshutka, but it also takes me twelve years to reply. I can’t imagine having to text like this every time I might want to tell something funny to a friend, yet this is what everyone in Georgia is just used to doing.

Sometimes it feels like every object in my host family's house is in a different language. The washing machine is in Russian (I’m still in awe every time I open the machine door and realize I washed my clothes on the correct setting), the gas lamp knobs in the kitchen are in Farsi (an import from Iran) and the vacuum (or should I say vakuum) is an import from the Deutschland.

It’s a little crazy when you think about, but every other item in the house seems to be from another part of the world. Eka is always very curious and very aware of where all her products come from. She knows which country every plate she has is from (mostly China and the Czech Republic) and the exact city where her dining room table and cupboards were crafted.

I love the amount of pride my family takes in all their multinational goods. Both before I left for Israel and before I left for Armenia, they checked the almanac to see what the countries’ main exports were. So far I’ve always been able to bring back at least one of the exports mentioned in the almanac and those are always the gifts my family seems to be most curious about. In the United States I feel like most people don’t really care where their goods come from; usually whatever is cheapest at the store will do.

It amazes me that while I can barely use a cell phone in my native tongue or fix internet ‘connectivity’ issues on the computer, my fourteen year old sister who doesn’t even know what ‘connectivity’ means has no problem clicking around on the desktop and solving the issue all the while texting in Georgian using an English alphabet.

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