Bilingual at the Park

I took the kids to the playground today, the first day of spring break. It wasn’t terribly crowded, maybe because the temperature had taken a dip. A dip here means all the Greek kids were back in their winter coats again, while my kids were in short sleeves and long pants. I’m sure I was getting chastised by worried Greek grandmothers, but since I only understand a few words, no harm no foul.

Liam was testing out his new toy – a balance bike we scored from another embassy family – when a little girl came over to admire it. She was young, maybe three, so she admired it by trying to take off with it. My very possessive seven-year-old shouted, “No, that’s mine!” Then, when she replied in Greek, he leaned down and firmly said, “Oh-hee. Oh-hee.” She got the message.

Later, when he was waiting his turn for the monkey bars, he very politely asked, “May I parakalo go next?”

On our way home, a Greek grandmother stopped us to pinch Violet’s cheeks and fawn over Liam. In these situations, we hear a string of Greek gibberish, but we usually get the gist. I’ve even started replying, “She’s 11 months, and her name is Violet” because that is usually what they’re asking. Or sometimes I just say, “Anglika, parakalo,” which means, “English, please.” Today Liam did all the talking, politely explaining, in English, that he only spoke English, and so did his mom. The grandmother nodded and smiled, and as we turned to go, Liam turned back and waved, “Ya-sas!” She burst out with a delighted, “Bravo!

Learning the language is slow going. Liam goes to a class twice a week, but it takes time to retain. And I’ve been so busy settling in, I haven’t taken the time to really learn. But it is nice to try out the few phrases we do know. We say, “Kalimera” to people in the morning on the way to the bus stop. And I found out from Violet’s Gymboree teacher that Good Afternoon is Kalismera and Good Night is Kalinichta. I’ve invented a little song to sing to Violet so she can learn these three phrases. Liam sings along, too. It’s nice to think my kids will be bilingual by the time we leave this post. And with a little work, I will be, too.

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