Five Languages At Lunch

On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


Five Languages At Lunch


It was a typical family get-together for lunch.  Except this was no typical family and no ordinary lunch.  The sit-down lunch was composed of extended family members from different towns, regions, and countries. Various family members and their spouses originally came from Cambodia, from Laos, from Switzerland, from Morocco, and from the USA.

On this slightly atypical Sunday lunch, we sat around the crowded dinner table and conversed with one another in Schweizer Deutsch, Vietnamese, Lao, French, and English.  This was only a portion of the extended family of the Footloose Forester; one family that used at least five languages. Make it six languages when you include Cambodian, the native language spoken by one of the diners at the table.



Each person chose to express themself in the language that would best make their point to the listener(s).  Footloose Forester found himself mixing German, English, and French in the same sentence, just as a long ago well driller he knew in Cape Verde had used mixed languages to express himself to others whose native tongue was different from his own.  If he could not come up with the proper word in one language, he used the appropriate word from a different language.

The same circumstances were present at lunch at Ba Xaun’s table in Luzern, Switzerland. She is the matriarch of the family and the reason Footloose Forester and his wife Thu were in Luzern to visit.  She was either mother, aunt or grandmother to most of the people around the table.  In the photo above, Ba Xuan, accompanied by neices Sothi Rech, Thu Pellek and daughter Lien. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_1497.JPGThe older generation who had lived in, and then escaped Laos, conversed in Lao or in Vietnamese because most of them were culturally Vietnamese. Except, that is; when they spoke with the younger generation of immigrant refugees to Switzerland who spoke better German, of a distinctly Schweizer Deutsch dialect.  Morocco-born Philippe Rech, husband of Cambodia born Sothi, spoke to others in French or English; and his wife replied to others in Vietnamese, French, or English. The majority of those around the table were refugees to Switzerland from Laos, but were ethnically Vietnamese, so spoke Lao or Vietnamese with other older adults; and in German with the youngsters who spoke German much better than they did either Lao or Vietnamese.   In the middle photo, Ba Xuan's daughters Lien and Chi are joined by Son-in-Law Khamla.  A grandson is standing in the backgound.


If you listened carefully and analyzed the actual words being spoken, you would conclude that almost everyone mixed words from all five languages to make their point.  If you (or they) did not come up with the proper word in one language, we all sought out the appropriate words in another language.  Sometimes the proper words or expressions popped into your brain and rolled out onto your tongue.  And sometimes not.  But we all kept an open mind about trying to communicate. For the most part, it worked. 

As part of the younger generation, granddaughters Tiffiny and Cinthia are accompanied by Cinthia's Swiss boyfriend, Marco.  Daughter Lien lives in the apartment upstairs and is the most frequent caregiver for her mother.

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