Stranger in My Own Land

Say you're in a foreign country. Business or pleasure, no matter. You go to a hairdresser, or worse – a dentist or a doctor, because you have no choice, it's something that won't wait until you get back home. The person taking care of you knows some English – enough for you to explain what's the matter, what you need. He or she nods and sets to work. Then he and his colleagues start babbling in their own language and don't stop until the moment has come for you to get up, pay, and continue on your way. You have no idea what they're on about. They talk animatedly, totally engrossed in their chat. Their hands do what they're supposed to, be it clipping your hair or filling the cavity in your tooth; but the rest of them just isn't there. You don't know if they're discussing last night's date, a TV show, the political situation, the style of your clothes or the color of your skin.

Sounds familiar?

This happens to me very often, in my own country, Israel. And the language spoken all around me is – you guessed it – Russian.

I can't blame the Russian speakers. People automatically revert to their mother tongue whenever possible. Why on earth should the dentist and his assistant break their heads trying to speak Hebrew for my sake, when they can pass the time and prattle comfortably in their native tongue?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been spending much time in the freezing cold corridors and rooms of Ichilov hospital. Actually, my mother has been transferred to the Rehab wing of the hospital, in case you're interested. That's the good news. The bad news, linguistically speaking, is that the situation here isn't any better. The nurses and "koach ezer" (auxiliary staff?) at the nurses' station, in the dining room, in the corridors and bedrooms, for the most part speak Russian. Yes, occasionally – when they absolutely must – they address my mother or me in Hebrew. A few of them make an effort and say a few sentences in English. But most of the time, we are completely left out. We're the foreigners. We don't understand the local idiom.
When this happens at the hairdresser's or at the supermarket, it may be unpleasant, but it's not that bad. However, when you're hospitalized and feeling vulnerable, dependent, anxious – it's far worse.


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