Autumn Phillips: Farsi, Uzbek, Sports
Three languages I never learned to speak
March 25, 2004
For the first three years of their marriage, my grandparents did not have a television. They married in the 1950s, when the television did not come one to a room in each household. For those first three years, the living room was silent on Sundays. My grandmother always looks fondly on that time.
But in that third year, they got a television, and for the first time, my grandmother heard what would be the soundtrack of every weekend for the rest of her life — the sound of sports.
Even in black and white, it filled the house. The cheering of the crowd. The announcer’s voice. And when the new color television came, the added sound of canned horns.
It fills her house, even today, just as it filled my childhood.
At my grandfather’s house, it was the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Longhorns. For my dad, it was the Denver Broncos.
Without football, they watch golf. Without golf, they watch whatever ESPN has to offer.
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I’m miles away from my family, but I imagine the television is tuned to basketball.
Perhaps I am genetically predisposed, an inherited trait from my grandmother, to glaze over like a doughnut when sports are on. When the subject comes up, I petrify inside. I enter a personal isolation bubble and watch as the mouths move.
Somehow, I can sense when the subject has changed back to more interesting topics. The bubble rises. I re-engage.
There is a certain peace that comes from sitting quietly in a room while everyone speaks a language you do not understand.
Remember your trip to Europe. You sitting on the train while all around you people babbled in Czech, French and Serbo-Croatian. You had no idea what they were saying, but you forgot, for that moment, that human beings have an infinite ability for filling the world with vacuous and boring face noise. Those people on the train were discussing important things. They were so interesting. You loved Europe.
Then you tried to speak.
If there is peace in silence, there is only embarrassment as soon as you open your mouth. As my friends discuss sports, sometimes I make the mistake of trying to join in, and I speak sports as well as I speak Farsi or Uzbek or (insert another language I don’t speak.)
Imagine yourself: It’s your first day in Europe. You’ve learned to say, “How are you?” and “Where’s the bathroom?” in the native tongue.
You say those things. They stop, look at you and smile. And then return to their conversations.
Things I know about sports:
Someday, the Red Sox will beat the Yankees.
Rick Reilly is a great columnist.
I think that’s it.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the isolation tank this week. Call it bracket week. Something about basketball. Something about colleges. Something, something. Blah, blah, blah.