My Housekeeping Failure Leads to Vindication of Pimsleur Vocabulary

July 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

After I complained heartily of three days in a row of repeating listlessly in Greek that I have children, in several permutations of age and gender, today it was useful. We have hired a new housekeeper, because we were beginning to descend into total cat-hair covered savagery, shying from the chaos in small preserved corners of the apartment while the unpaired socks and mounds of receipts ran rampant and got ideas above their station.

She is a handsome woman of a uniform shade of russet, from her bronzed skin to her auburn curly hair lightened by the sun, with good laugh lines around her mouth and a laughing sadness around the eyes. She cleans with a fury, pummeling things with rags and mops and vacuum cleaners, and she seems not to understand that I don’t understand much Greek at all, no matter how much I insist that this is so.

In fact, as she began chatting me up, woman to woman, once the work was done, and I looked at her in friendly clueless panic, I understood absolutely nothing until I heard the word παιδια (pedia).

Children?

Children!

I grew excited. I said, me? Me? I have no children!

Δεν εχω παιδια! (Then ekho pedia!)

She seemed OK with this enthusiasm, so I continued in my atrocious Greek,

And you? You have children?

Three, she said, holding up fingers. Girls.

I understood the word “girls”! Only she used the singular, “girl.” But she could not have three girl, so I assumed she meant three girls and was simplifying things for my simpleton’s sake.

Pressing forward, I asked, are they small or big?

She looked depressed. I realize now after the fact that she looked to be in her fifties, so maybe suggesting she had small children was strange. But it was in my vocabulary context, so I had to ask.

One is twenty-five, she said, putting out a finger. She put out another finger and said, eighteen. Then she put out a third and said something that ruined my sensation of briefly understanding Greek.

No, I said, laughing, not small. They are not small.

Then followed some incomprehensible garble with hand gestures waving below the waist and then above and repetitions of the word for “here” and finally a word that sounded like “scolia.”

I simply repeated this word and she looked satisfied that I had understood. She then began to ask me furious quick questions about other things, asking me how many of something, and pointing up and down. I ascertained she was asking something about the building, how many floors, how many apartments perhaps, since she said “spiti” several times, which means home if I remember anything from week 2 of Pimsleur.

I had no idea how to answer what I imagined she was asking, so I just kept laughing more wackily with crazy faces and repeating more and more loudly that I did not understand Greek very well, just a little, excuse me!

She continued in the usual way: she repeated herself more and more loudly, slowly, looking at me with an incredulous expression, as if mere persistence would snap me out of it and I would find I spoke perfect Greek after all and had just been fucking with her.

I kept repeating, I don’t understand. I was beginning to feel a bit bullied. At last, she seemed finished, though dissatisfied, and off she went, after refusing a drink of water that I offered because she looked tired but mostly because I knew how to offer it in Greek.

She did not ask me if I had a car, though. Because then I could have said with feeling, no! I do not have a car. And capped my pop quiz in Modern Greek 1 with a triumph.

And the place is clean. And I still do not have children. Or a car.

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§ 2 Responses to My Housekeeping Failure Leads to Vindication of Pimsleur Vocabulary

  • She sounds adorably confusing! 🙂
    I think by “scolia” (σχολεία/ σχολειά) she means “schools” (that word would include every level of education, from kindergarten to university). It’s one of the constant woes of Greek family, as -free as they might be on principle- they’re considered the sine qua non of every kid: equipping a child with as advanced an education in academic terms as possible is considered a parent’s mission here. (Sometimes this goes to extremes that are not necessarily beneficiary)

  • Persolaise says:

    Great anecdote.

    You’ll probably understand more and more each time you see here.

    This is also an opportunity for you to invent perfect children for yourself and say they’re all studying nuclear physics and send their mother a bouquet of long-stem roses every week.

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