Cultural Studies

I drove a carpool of kids to camp today. My own son and two other boys in the 6th grade, all of whom are new to the school this year. As you might imagine, I took it upon myself to get them to know each other better during the hour-long drive to camp. I told my son, A, to put his book away and be social on the ride in, since no one knew each other. I prodded conversation along for a few minutes, then once we were into construction and diverted off the designated course toward camp, I focused on the drive, leaving them in silence in the seat behind me.
Me: Really, if you want to pull out books or something to do, I don’t mean to take that from you.
A opens his book again. (silence)
Me: I can’t really turn on the radio or anything because I don’t know the school rules on that stuff.
It’s not hard to imagine me flipping to a music channel and getting Thriftshop uncensored (which I swear I heard on The End not too long ago). Or maybe a strategically placed Viagra ad? The mommy-sense is tingling, so I was glad when they didn’t argue.
R: I didn’t bring a book. (silence)
I thought to myself just then: It’s going to be a long ride.
D: I brought a spinning cube game but it’s in my duffel, in the other car.
A: You mean a Rubik’s Cube?
D: Yeah.
A: I love those.
D: I did it in 57 seconds the other day.
A: What? You can do it in under a minute? Wow.

Silence. A went back to his book. Apparently I hate silence in my car.
Me: Would someone like to read the directions to me? We’re at number 4. R accepts the paper and reads number five. Silence.
I prodded them for conversation again. After we went over siblings and favorite things at the new school, we got to the fun part.

D: I don’t have any siblings or cousins and that’s the way it is often, where I come from.
Me: Where are you from?
D: Romania
Me: And there aren’t a lot of brothers and sisters there?
D: Well for many of the families like mine, yes. But some do.

Then they started talking about math. Well, D did, because he had more words than the rest.
D: They made us learn decimals and fractions in 3rd grade basically to confuse us.
A: By learning too much too early?

A looks up from his book intrigued, since he’s never been taught too much math too early. I am just happy he said something because his nose has been in a dragon book basically since we got in the car.

D: Well yes, the president wants to ultimately confuse everyone so they keep voting for him every 3 years and so he made them teach math that is too hard for 3rd graders, so we stay confused. And then in 3 years he gets to change the rules again and they will vote for him again.
My gas gauge has been on E for a half hour and I am focused on turns in unfamiliar territory, but I am also listening through a sieve of what his parent told him and what he understands of it but it’s clear that math didn’t really end up daunting him.
Me: What’s the president’s name?
D after a pause: I don’t know how you say it in English.
Me: Well it’s probably the same as in Romanian, just like in Romania you say “Barack Obama” or something very close. We probably try to say it close to the way you do.
Still he doesn’t offer it.
R: Did your president really do that to confuse you in math so he would get re-elected?
D: Yes, it is very usually the way it is. And the people who live in… I think you call it ‘country side’… they only learn up to 5th grade.
Me: And the people who live in the city get more education?
D: Yes very often.
Me: R, what is your home language?
R is obviously Indian by heritage, but I haven’t heard him speak enough to determine his native language.
R: English is what I speak at home, but I know a little Hindi.
Me: So do your parents speak to each other in English or Hindi?
This is a fascination of mine. I have several friends who speak in English to their spouses, though English is a second or third language for them. In most cases it’s because the only language they have in common is English. I’ve thought a lot about how my conversations with my spouse would be different if I had to do it in my third language.
R: My mother speaks Telugu and my dad speaks Bengali, so they talk to each other in English mostly, but sometimes in Hindi.
Me: And that’s how you’ve learned Hindi?
I was fishing to see if they send him to language school, which is a pretty popular thing around here. He didn’t offer it.
D: I can understand a little Spanish because it is similar to Romanian.
Me: Really, it’s a Romantic language?
(I haven’t had enough coffee yet and meant Romance, not Romantic)
D: I don’t know. I just know a lot of the words are the same in Romanian and Spanish.
Me: That’s really interesting. I thought Romanian was similar to Russian.
D: No, I don’t think so. Romanian is close to Spanish like Germany is close to… Dutchland, I mean… Dutch? Oh, wait, aren’t those the same country?
I straighten out the Netherlands and Germany for him and we go onward.
A: Mom, what do you mean by Romance language?
Me: I should have said Latin-based language. The languages that use Latin as their root are often referred to as Romance languages: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and I guess, Romanian. So you would understand many of their words.
A: Yeah from Latin, I guess.
R: Your next turn is on Main Street. You should turn left.
We arrived at camp on fumes. The boys piled out, grabbed their packs and waved good bye. As I looped around and headed back down the two track, coasting in neutral on my way to the nearest gas station (I made it), I flipped on the radio. Very first thing I heard? A vibrator ad from Lovers. Good to know the mommy-sense is still intact.