Last weekend, Shelley and I went to a posh new cafe across from school to grade papers. We sat in a sunlit corner sort of near an older Australian couple. We were hungry and excited to order, but despite the English menu, we encountered some difficulties. They didn’t have my first choice entree, and they told Shelley they were out of hot tea. Out of hot tea? In Asia? Not a thing. Shelley pushed the issue, and after about 4 staff tried to explain, it became clear that the Australian woman was using the cafe’s only teapot. They couldn’t make Shelley a pot of tea because they had nothing in which to serve it. The Australian lady, obviously overhearing all of this, kindly offers Shelley her teapot because they are leaving soon. The staff isn’t down with this plan. We all shrug our expat shoulders in bemusement and go on with our days. Shared understanding and lots of essays to grade.
After they have left, Shelley has had some tea, and I enjoyed my second choice entree, a pair of 20something Australian kids come in and sit at the table next to ours. It is a big place, but our corner is clearly the best. They are also hungry and eager to order, and it is hard not to hear that the young man has picked my first choice entree off the list. I want to tell him it is a no go, but it is rude to eavesdrop, so I keep grading. The waiter comes over, and they have a very similar, linguistically frustrating conversation. Shelley and I are definitely listening. They are unsuccessful in ordering food.
The waiter goes to make their drinks, while they plot how to get what they want. Apparently, they know the executive chef of this chain of cafes. He is downtown and no good to him, but they call Joe and confirm that they should be able to order this tofu sandwich even though it is on the breakfast side of the menu because they serve breakfast all day. So, when the poor waiter gets back to the table, they are finally able to convince him that Mr. Joe is ordering him to give them what they want or there will be hell to pay on Monday. It was heavy handed, but that sandwich did look delicious. Shelley and I sort of laughed at how involved we were in the drama and how actively we had eavesdropped as had the older Australians there before them. Then, we went back to grading.
Today, as I am packing to head to the airport to meet Christyn in Australia. I got an email from her about how a convention of old Australian ladies working for some sort of Mary Kayish company have checked into our first hotel. Christyn was amused because one proper old lady told another she was “going to spend a penny,” as she headed into the restroom. Suddenly, Christyn’s email clarified things for me. I love hearing English around me, so I do actively eavesdrop on every English conversation I can. Also, I have done this my whole life, not just now that I am English deprived. This made me nostalgic for all those crazy interactions you have with people you don’t know because you will understand each other’s language, even if you don’t understand each others ideas or life choices. I think my journal the next few days will be full of conversations I listen to surreptitiously. Get me to the land of English speakers, so I too can learn to “spend a penny,” find things that have “gone walkabout,” and avoid appearing as if I’ve got “kangaroos loose in the top paddock.”