Learning Hebrew, Work

Water cooler conversations

Trust me.

I want more than just small talk.

I’m a jokester at heart. Snide, sarcastic, internally begging for your laughter from the minute I open my mouth.

All I want to do is talk to you.

But I can’t. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I’ll say it wrong. I’m afraid I’ll say it right and you’ll respond.

I’m afraid you’ll want my answer.

I’m not so good at answering.

Unless I agree with you. L’gamrei. Or you’re looking for the bathroom.  Or the elevator. Or the way to Karmiel.

But like a devoted scholar of deception, I’ve mastered the art of small talk.

I can tell you how much I love your dress. I can even ask you where you got it and feign surprise.

But don’t ask me for my opinion on the latest political scandal.

I know. You won’t. You’re just as afraid to talk serious with me as I am with you.

But trust me.

I have so much more to offer you than unoriginal compliments and directions to the nearest facility.

I’m a story weaver. A speech giver. A pulpit preacher – desperate to shove my opinion down your throat.

And I am just as tired of telling the same story in the coffee room as you are of hearing it. The one where I justify my espresso addiction by relaying how I used to think café shachor was a quaint regional delicacy until I made Aliyah.  No one thinks this story is more old and tired than I do.

Trust me.

I’m quick and clever. The comeback I crafted in my head after your joke in that meeting the other day was three different shades of awesome until I tried to translate it word for word into Hebrew. I got as far as “Your mother is,” when I realized you were already half way out the door.

Trust me.

Back in the old country, folks thought I was cute because I’m short and blonde and snarky, not because I mixed up my feminine and masculine. Back where I come from, I never mistook masculine for feminine unless I was lost in Chelsea.

Trust me, that joke wasn’t my best.  And if I was able to make more than small talk with you, you would know that by now. You’d give me slack on that one because you would already know just how witty my typical ditty is.

By now, if we made more than small talk, I would have won you over with my charm, style, or my inexplicable ability to interpret your crazy dreams – a talent I exhibit best over espresso…in English.

3 thoughts on “Water cooler conversations”

  1. Sigh. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But I’ll say this after 7.5 years… I’ve found a new voice. It’s in Hebrew. And it’s not who I am at the core. It’s a piece of me, a layer. And it sucks at small talk and it can make jokes now occasionally… they’re just not the ones I’d make in English. I feel like two people a lot of the time. I’m not sure if it’s a problem. But I hear you.


  2. I’m responding to Allison’s post (from Facebook). Yes, Allison, I totally hear what you are saying about sacrificing short-term comfort for one’s overall goal of feeling comfortable in a foreign country. I get it. I am also a new immigrant. I came to Israel with a decent amount of Hebrew and despite how shy I am with it, I am encouraged over and over again to just “jump in the water”. I did. I worked in a Hebrew environment. I offer workshops and lectures in Hebrew on a regular basis. I speak to my husband in Hebrew (he’s Israeli). I read books in Hebrew on a regular basis for a while. I attend every Kibbutz meeting/gathering that I possibly can, despite the fact that I don’t understand everything and despite that I am still shy to open my mouth at those events.
    Yet, Jen is not in that place. She doesn’t work in a Hebrew environment. She doesn’t speak Hebrew in the house. She is not actively pursuing to improve her Hebrew (as far as I know).
    So, at this rate, I don’t see Jen’s Hebrew improving much in the short-term OR the long-term. This is why, I am encouraging her to just to be comfortable being herself, in English, because this is where she IS now.
    I’m just wondering if instead of sacrificing her short-term comfort now for the long-term goal of learning Hebrew, she should be sacrificing some personal time and dedicating herself to mastering the Hebrew language (if this is her long-term goal).
    THEN, she can sacrifice her short-term comfort, knowing that she’s actively learning and improving her Hebrew.
    Or, perhaps she should reevaluate what her long-term goal is. If indeed, it is NOT to master the Hebrew language (I know it’s not my long-term goal now), perhaps she should just attain the goal of being fine with being in English, and surrounding herself with those who love, cherish and admire her, even when she speaks her own language and not that of others.


    1. Good points Shira. In my own small way I am definitely still working on my Hebrew (watching TV with my kids in Hebrew; reading them books at night; reading emails from coworkers, etc.) bubt I definitely think to massively improve my Hebrew I would have to throw myself into a Hebrew only life (ie. Hebrew only yishuv, Hebrew only job, etc.) or take a full time ulpan.

      But I think your last paragraph hits home the most — to just be happy with where I am now. Knowing that if mastering Hebrew was important enough, it’s where I would be putting my attention most.


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