Sunday, July 28, 2013

pas de problème

Generally, the first phrase I learn in any particular language after "thank you" is "no problem."  I can probably say thanks in close to 60 languages; I can probably say "no problem" in about half that figure.  It often leads to many interesting encounters.

One that sticks out in my head comes from my return from my trip from Beijing to Cairo.  I had flown back from Cairo to New York overnight, and had a few hours to kill in the NY airport before my final flight back to DC.  I was sleeping in a corner with a sweatshirt over my head, trying to get some rest after a long flight back.  There were some Vietnamese kids playing in the area around me.  At some point, their ball came rolling over and knocked in to me.  They ran over to say sorry.  I replied kam gwa zhee (no problem) and their eyes widened and they grabbed their ball in startled disbelief and walked away slowly.

Today, I went over to the nearby Bois de Boulougne park to read the excellent Sleepwalkers, which deftly explains how we got to The Guns of August.  The area I live in is filled with lavish apartment buildings that host many a Gulf Royal family and African dictators' kith and kin.  As such, there are many Filipinos who live in the area (including on my floor) who work for the Gulf royalty.  I can venture a number of guesses to why the Khaleej royalty like the Filipinos as their servants, housekeepers and nannies, but I dare not put those words on blog paper.

The park I ventured over to was filled with Filipino families hanging out, over drinks and cards and picnics.  The bouncy sound of Tagalog filled the evening air.  I sat under a baby banyan and read about the Balkan crises that pushed Europe towards war- how Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro conspired to push the Ottomans finally out of Europe in the First Balkan War, and then quickly brought out the long knives on each other in the Second Balkan War.  The sun set peach and then salmon across the horizon, lighting the glass and metal buildings in the distance at La Défense.

As I was finishing my chapter, some Filipino kids who had been running around with their ball let it fly a little too far and it rolled into me.  I threw it back to them, and as they apologized, I said: walang problema. The eldest kid's eyes widened, and he whispered gaugingly:  Pilipna?  I winked at him, closed my book and headed on home. 

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