The difficulty in being surrounded by beoble who either don’t speak English or don’t speak it particularly well, is that your own level of English suffers and starts to deteriorate as you endeavour to make yourself understood.
Last year I taught a class full of 6 year old Saudis and without realising it my language skills began to slip. I’d start dropping prepositions, restricting myself to a single verbal tense or simply speaking in a bullet point fashion so as not to confuse the children.
I’d find myself admonishing a child in a Tarzan-esque language:
“Why you do this? This bad! No do this. OK?”
A further consequence of being immersed in such an environment is that you’re often slow to realise when you’ve stepped outside of it. I remember, after having taught intensely for about two and half hours, I got a message that my principal wanted to see me on an unrelated matter.
I went to his office as instructed and was midway through our conversation when I suddenly became acutely aware that I was talking like a Neanderthal to a man who spoke perfectly good English.
Another corruptive problem that I’ve found stems from the lack of fame the land of Scotland has in Saudi Arabia.
I say this brushing aside for a moment all those Saudis (and a disturbing amount of ex-pats) who’ve seen the film Braveheart and insist on re-enacting it whenever I mention my country of birth.
“Where are you from?” or more commonly “From where you?” can be an everyday question over here; from taxi drivers and shop assistants to the general folk of the street.
I’ve rapidly given up explaining my Scottish decent to off-hand enquiries on nationality from random strangers who seem only able to equate white skin with America.
So, to end such an inquisitive conversation as soon as it starts I often resort to “I’m English” before continuing “How much for the [insert shop product name here]?”
However, yesterday I noticed a new low with my unintentional loss of identity.
I was in a cargo delivery shop looking for quotes on sending items to Edinburgh, Scotland. Momentarily sighing to myself as I noticed that the man had written “Adambr” on his notepad.
But I didn’t feel a compulsion to intervene into his quote-catalogue page-flicking until I saw his finger running down a list of cities of the “United States of America” as he searched for “Adambr.”
Much to my subsequent shame, the urge within me to get the process speeded up blurted out the phrase:
“No, Scotland! It’s in England.”
Now, my mother has been very patient with the various changes that Islam has brought me over the years but I fear that were she to ever hear that I’d identified my homeland as being part of its historic enemy, it might finally lead to the ostracization that things like giving up celebrating Christmas failed to provoke.