Friday, August 18, 2017

On being Arabic

Today at the gym, I met a young man in a football jersey from Qatar Airways. Since he looked Arabic, I asked him if he were from Qatar. He answered in English, telling me he didn’t understand, so I switched from Russian to English, posing the same question. He demurred: He doesn’t speak English. I went back to Russian and asked if he spoke Russian. “Чуть-чуть (a little bit)” he replied.

I tried once again to ask my question about Qatar, but he would have none of it. Maybe I don’t really know how to pronounce the name of the country anyway. I learned it third-hand from the father of a guy who went there to work as a journalist. In any event, I gave up and just asked where he was from.

“Minsk,” he replied.

Something’s not right here. If he’s really from Minsk, he should speak Russian. I probed and he evaded. He’s a figure skater and trains at various places all around the world. Maybe he’s not really from anywhere. But, surely he speaks some language. I don’t think you can learn to be an internationally-competitive figure skater if you can’t talk.

I asked him which language he speaks best. “Russian,” he replied. I just don’t believe it. He speaks another language at home with his family, and I’m pretty sure it’s Arabic. Understanding that he doesn’t want to talk about it, however, I let the subject drop.

If I’m right about his native language, then I’m curious about why he’s unwilling to talk about it. Perhaps he really didn’t understand my questions, but I think more likely he just didn’t want to talk about it with an American stranger.

I’m still thinking about this.