The Meaning Barrier

I was in a small grocery chain around the corner waiting behind a woman who was bending the ear of the cashier (a late middle aged lady). It was weird because while I could understand the words the sentences didn’t seem to make much (or any) sense. There was a lot of talk about shifts and oblique references to family members:

“My son’s wife couldn’t stay home to take care of the baby because the second shift, but they get paid on the 15th though in July because they didn’t have any more vacancies, though if it’s in time I have to start the third shift even though it’s Tuesday before the change and then schedule time for the utility bill that I had to make supper if they leave but if I can get more shifts then I transfer the key because two shifts in a row and my son said so and all the cleaning between shifts (and on and on and interminably on)”

The cashier was nodding sympathetically through the whole torrent of words. I was starting to wonder if there was actually any content to what she was saying and wondering if I were just too dense to cross this particular language barrier. Finally the lady doing the monologue ran out of steam and left.

As I started to put my things on the counter the cashier turned to me and said: “I have no idea what that was all about,” shaking her head in befuddlement.

No” I said and nodded. The Polish word no is my all purpose response in this type of situation, it’s very handy and can be variously translated, depending on the situation as ‘yep’, ‘well, well’ or ‘hmmmmmm’, it’s alway safe and never makes me sound as dumb or awkward as I might be feeling when I reach for it.

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