Allergic, America, Benadryl, Bumper Sticker, Car, China, Chinese, Chinese Restaurant, Doctor, Eastern medicine, Elderly, English, Foreign Country, Immigration, Life, Listen, Make Peace Not War, Medicine, melissakotlerschwartz, Mosquito, Newcomers, Pencil, Pot Stickers, Save the Planet, strangers, strangersihaveknown, USA
“Thank you for the pot stickers,” I said to the elderly Chinese woman at the counter. “They smell delicious.”
“My English not so good,” she answered. She smiled at me and I didn’t know if she understood what I had said. How difficult life must be in America if you don’t speak English, or for that matter in any country where you don’t speak the national language. Her smile was her way of dealing with her difficult situation and I admired her for it.
How ironic, I thought, that this morning on my way to the grocery store I had seen a lone bumper sticker on the red Hatchback in front of me that read, “Welcome to America. Please speak English.” I saw in the rear view mirror that the driver was a middle-aged man with a receding hairline. How dumb, I thought. Not only is that an insensitive thing to say, but if you don’t speak English, you’re not going to know what the bumper sticker says anyway, so what’s the point?
She handed me the bill and I noticed that her arm looked like it had burns on it, or welts. She seemed happy that I noticed her arm. “Mosquito. Mosquito,” she repeated.
She knew the word “mosquito” and the bites looked bad. I recognized what was wrong because my family is very allergic to mosquitoes. “You need Benadryl,” I said to her.
She tried to say the word. “Bendra, bendra.”
She handed me a tiny note pad and pencil. I wrote down the name of the medicine, wondering if that would help her. At that moment I felt a helpless barrier between us and I hoped that someone would translate to her what I had written.
“Daughter coming,” she said and I understood this to be a daughter who spoke English.
She reached underneath a counter and showed me a small amber-colored bottle covered in Chinese letters. “Oil,” she said to me. Maybe it was some sort of topical pain relief, but whatever it was, it was not working for her.
I was fascinated by the words on the small bottle and she let me hold it in my hand. I turned it around and wondered what kind of ailments the oil treated. I’ve always been intrigued by Eastern medicine. This was the first time I was privy to seeing a bottle of medicine from China.
“You might need to see a doctor,” I said to her, looking at her arm once again.
“Doctor,” she repeated and smiled at me.
“I hope you feel better,” I said.
Even though we did not speak the same language, I knew that we had connected anyway. She needed to tell somebody about her mosquito bites and I was there to listen and advise.
The owner of the nasty bumper sticker should really remove it. There are so many more problems to worry about in this world. How about having a more positive bumper sticker like, “Save the Planet” or “Make Peace Not War.” The elderly Chinese woman was not able to speak English very well but she was contributing to society by having a business and stimulating the economy.
If he doesn’t want to be helpful, maybe he should get a taste of his own medicine – we should drop him in a foreign country where no English is spoken and see how well he fares.