“So are you a tourist?” he asked me looking down with concern. I have no idea how he managed to tower over me. He was no more than four feet tall. Probably ten years old, 12 at best, about 80 in dog years.
I responded in the negative. “I am actually living here”.
“It’s hard here.” He said, trying to make me feel better, but knowing full well that at this level of incompetence, my chances for survival in Israel were pretty bleak. Like a gazelle being chased by a lion on Animal Planet, my time was limited, and I probably was not going to make it to the commercial break.
In my defense it was seven in the morning and he caught me pre coffee. Or rather, he caught me attempting to order coffee at the bus station. I was doing the thing where I try to use the few words I know in Hebrew to convey every need that I have. You would be surprised by how much you can do with one word and three different tonal inflections.
However, after a couple minutes I realized that just repeating the phrase “I need to go to the bathroom” and raising my eyebrows suggestively was not getting the job done. Instead of pouring me a large cup or setting up a coffee IV (as my right eyebrow up and grimace signified) the barista just thought I was going to wet my pants.
And you don’t give a girl who is about to wet her pants more hot liquid, that’s science.
I was just about at the point of pulling out my Spanish and miming my need for a cup of coffee (I took an improv class, so I knew how to get trapped in a box) when my wise young friend came to my rescue. I never asked him his name, but I am assuming it is something angelic, like Angela or Chuck. On second thought it probably isn’t Angela.
So Chuck came to my rescue. He had perfect English. I can only assume he mastered the language while doing something equally angelic like volunteering in the States and feeding starving English majors or translating the calorie information of diet granola from Hebrew into English.
“What are you trying to order?” He asked me.
I drooled. “Coffee”.
He was patient and handed me a napkin. “Iced coffee? A latte? What do you want?”
I wiped my face. “Normal coffee, American coffee, a large coffee.”
He ordered it for me; he was wise beyond his years and mine apparently. I would be lost without him, or worse, decaffeinated. He then ordered his own coffee.
“French Vanilla.” He said it in his perfect English. It was at that moment that two things dawned on me. The Barista understood English and I also wanted a French Vanilla.
I changed my order. Or rather Chuck changed it for me. Then he helped me pay for it, taking the nickel that I had tried to give the barista off the counter and replacing it with the appropriate currency.
“So are you a tourist?” he asked.
I felt like a child. You would think that I would have been offended, ashamed, embarrassed. But I wasn’t. I didn’t mind that I was being babied at the bus station, coddled at the coffee shop or any other appropriate alliteration that I am too lazy to come up with at the moment. Maybe this is just a sign of my worsening coffee addiction, as apparently I would trade my dignity and my favorite Pokemon cards for a cup of coffee. And that’s even assuming that I still have any dignity left.
Or maybe I’m not ashamed because there is nothing wrong with getting help from a ten year old, or anyone for that matter.
You can’t be picky when you are confused in a new country. Chuck was right. It’s hard living in a place where you haven’t bothered to learn the language and don’t know how to order the basics. But the help from people like my prepubescent and apparently highly caffeinated guardian angel make it a little easier. The caffeine doesn’t hurt either.
Maybe I will make it past the commercial break.