(I need a break from all this climate talk. I imagine you might too! So once a month, I’m going to write about talking to strangers. Because talking to people I don’t know is one of my favorite things to do. I must have been absent from school the day they told us not to talk to strangers. Besides, isn’t a stranger just someone you haven’t connected with yet?)
I’m in the produce section at Vons looking for kale. There’s a guy in a black apron, fortyish, with dark curly hair. Pinned to his apron is a plastic nametag with the name AMIR printed below the words, “Hello, my name is.” He’s stacking purple eggplant, tapping their ends so they all line up pretty.
“Where is the kale?” I ask. I don’t hear his answer so I ask again. He bows his head a little and apologizes for his accent. “No,” I say, “your English is quite good. I just didn’t hear what you said. Where are you from?” I ask, always hungry to connect.
“Iran.” He says. Purple eggplant all shiny and lined up, he has moved on to the celery.
“Is Farsi your first language?” I ask, disappointed that I don’t even know how to say hello in Farsi.
“Yes.” He smiles. And then he tells me this story.
“When I first moved to the United States I decided to spend a day in a cafe listening to other people’s conversations. I wanted to see how much English I could understand. There was a couple at a table next to me. I could hear everything they were saying but I couldn’t understand a word. My confidence was shattered. I had thought my English was pretty good. ‘Okay, go back again,’ I told myself. Maybe tomorrow will be better. And it was, because that’s when I realized that the couple had been speaking in Spanish!” His whole face erupts in a smile.
I walk out of Vons with a bag of kale and a whole lot of unanswered questions that I didn’t ask Amir: How old were you when you came to the US? Why did you leave? What did you hope would be different in the US? What is it like to move half way around the world into a brand new culture?
When I got home, I looked up how to say hello in Farsi. Salam.
It’s a beginning. Next time I meet someone from Iran, I can begin with Salam.