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Essay: Foreign Language

At the service center, I ask a young man for help with my smartphone. He shrugs, as if it were nothing.

To him it is nothing because he grew up with a smartphone.

Not me.

I have lived half my life without one and the transition has not been easy.

The young man asks me questions I cannot answer. It’s possible that I know the answer but not the language in which he’s speaking.

The language of technology.

Some words are familiar but mean something else, like Home or Cloud or Server. Other words are abbreviations or made up like Apps or Wi-Fi or Passcode.

The young man is having trouble fixing my problem and I assume it’s my fault.

My ignorance.

But finally he seems to figure it out and eagerly returns my phone.

He is not disrespectful exactly, but he’s clearly bored and ready to get rid of me.

I leave the store feeling relieved and also stupid and angry.

And I hope that someday that young man will find himself needing help and unable to speak the language. Hope that someone treats him with disdain.

But after I walk a few blocks, I change my mind.

I hope someone treats him with kindness—and that he remembers.

Karen Anderson is a writer who lives and works in Traverse City, Michigan. She was a columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle for 30 years and published two collections.