On Foreign Languages

I had arrived in New York, after another one of those exhausting, unnecessarily long flights I love to take: Los Angeles –> Charlotte, North Carolina –> New York. It was after midnight, and I was in an airport shuttle van, the matatus of New York City, with a group of people being dropped off at our respective residences in Manhattan after being picked up at the airport.

I was the last stop, and we floated around Times Square for awhile, dispensing tourists at their hotels and getting stuck in late night traffic clusters. We stopped at the last of these hotels, one right next to an Irish-themed bar, and parked at the curb as the driver helped the passengers unload their luggage. I looked out of the window and saw a group of boys and girls — maybe in their early twenties — outside of the bar. I was captivated by how animated they were: each one of them was smiling, and each time one of them said something, they all burst into genuine, unselfconscious laughter, grabbing onto each other for support and to catch their breaths. They touched each other constantly, affectionately stroking each other’s shoulders and backs. When each person talked, his or her face fully contorted into discrete, distinguishable expressions, and his or her hands would lift and wave around, punching and slicing the air. I hadn’t seen anything like it in a long time. I almost felt like I was eavesdropping on an intimate encounter just by watching them from my window.

Then I realized they must be foreign. When the driver opened his door to get back into the van, bits of their conversation rushed in at me, pieces of a language I couldn’t identify.


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