When in Doubt

Rub Grandma’s leg.

Emee (grandmother) came over while Mom and Pop were gone. She has an intimidating presence, so I made sure not to cross her path too much her first night here. (Yet I can tell she’s speaking to me because the volume of her speech rises noticeably. I shan’t forget I am the ‘hard-of-hearing’ foreigner any time soon.) When I woke up the next morning, she was already up in the kitchen, so I had to pass her as I went in and out of the bathroom. She stopped me on my way out, holding up her pinky finger and pointing to the leg she had oiled and propped up on a chair. I held up my pinky, mimicking her (a surefire way to let people speaking a different language know you understand them fully). She nodded, pointed to her leg, and began to massage it. I then pointed with my pinky to her leg, and she nodded again. I touched my pinky to her leg, looking for some sign or direction for what to do next. She kept rubbing with her whole hand, so I followed suit with the pinky, rubbing her oiled lower shin. The other fingers on my right hand became involved when the pinky grew tired. I tried asking what the oil was to give my pinky (and my gag reflex) a break, but I had no clue what she responded. (My Mongolian leaves much to be desired.) All I know is, she held up her pinky and grunted what I assumed to be an order to resume rubbing. My hand ventured to the side of her calf, but the scaly skin was a bit too much for my tactile senses to handle– I had to return to the oil. She then brought out her other leg, pointing to a scar, again with her pinky. Again, I mimicked, thinking that was my pinky’s next assignment. Right as I was preparing my stomach (why touch is more sensitive than my taste buds is beyond me), thankfully, she finally motioned for me to go to my room to get ready for the day. Since then, our– Emee’s and mine– interactions have been relatively normal (despite her yelling in Mongolian to make me understand her better and her dumping a string of beads on my rug so that I should restring them into a necklace for her with yarn that won’t fit their holes). Only later did someone inform me that the pinky is a sign for ‘bad,’ much like the thumbs-down sign is in the States. She was probably just telling me her leg was hurt, and I was probably never supposed to rub her leg, let alone with my pinky of all fingers. But I can’t blame her. After all, who’s going to stop a free massage?

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7 thoughts on “When in Doubt

  1. First of all, your 3-year-old brother is darling! Great picture!

    As for Emee – I LOVE this story. You had me cracking up! Body language is all you have to go by for a while. At least it seems like she is more accepting of you now. Why wouldn’t she, though? You’re her go to masseuse now. 🙂 I love the story about the yarn necklace remake, as well.

    Love you!

  2. What do you call this mirror image strategy of yours? Reflective language learning? Could be – makes it sound full of potential. While in reality, it’s leading your hands into some bad and sticky (prickly) situations. I’m sure that grandmother is thinking “Crazy American,”
    Hope you don’t develop some kind of pinky fungus.
    Smile.

  3. That is too funny, Alyse! (And a little disturbing!) 😉 … I am loving all your blogs!! Thanks for sharing! … Continuing to pray for you…. Love and hugs!!!

  4. Oh my goodness! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that! It must be really difficult though not being able to communicate verbally with them. I know you are eager to learn and you will pick it up fast! You are such a smart girl! Thinking of you!

  5. I am using my pinky finger to point at my lower back…! I do totally understand the time, energy,( and use of all your senses) to learn a new culture! The upside is…you will get it enough not to feel ridiculous most of the time! Sometimes after 9 months here all I can do is laugh! Enjoy! And keep the blogs coming I am having a great time follow you (and praying for you). -cheyl

  6. I have often wondered what it is like for those foreigners in our country…now I have a greater appreciation. You really do crack me up! Oh to be a Mongolian fly on the White girls wall…

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