Childhood regression

I've said this before, but living overseas in a country where you don't speak the language or understand the cultural norms has an uncanny way of making one feel like a child. I mean this in a couple of senses.

In one sense it's because childhood is, in many ways, a state of complete dependence on others for the basic essentials of life. Here, I feel like I'm in the same position. In any given day, accomplishing the basic tasks of adulthood--purchasing food for myself, figuring out how to get from point A to point B, resolving issues with my cell phone plan, etc--requires the assistance of someone else who can facilitate translation. Sure, many people here speak some English and I can muddle along in a few words of Hebrew, but anything more complicated than doing a basic falafel order (it's unfortunately impossible to get my preferred level of spice)  or buying a loaf of bread requires intervention from others, seemingly.

When language isn't the barrier, cultural norms seem to be. For instance, people don't wait in line in the same way here. I waited in line at a fruit stand yesterday for about 10 minutes, bunch of bananas in hand, before a kindly English speaker took pity on me and showed me that I needed to thrust the bananas in the shopkeeper's face (that's what she said!) to get service.  Even in those interactions that are successful, I feel like I'm the 8-year-old sent to the store with a $10 from his parents. I perceive the same condescending smiles that I remember from my first childhood attempts to interact with the world.

The other way in which language and cultural barriers make me feel like a child: I can't perceive many social and political cues from the world around me. I can't understand what people are saying/shouting on the street, etc. Given that this is a time of tension and lots of people are, in fact, shouting in the street, this is a problem (perhaps even a safety issue). I'm constantly tapping one of my Hebrew-speaking roommates, asking them to explain things. I have a vivid childhood memory of asking my mom to explain the Bosnia conflict after reading about it on the front page of a newspaper on display in a vending machine. I feel that I'm in the same situation every day here. I'm an information sponge, so this is perhaps even more disconcerting than the inability to communicate.

We're one week into Hebrew and Arabic education. Hebrew doesn't feel so daunting-25 years of inconsistent Hebrew exposure seems to be helping somewhat. Arabic feels impossible. Arabic script, in which letters are joined and are written differently based on their positioning within a word due to the requirements of letter joining, is terrifying. Both Hebrew and Arabic contain sounds that are really difficult for a native English speaker to make, but Arabic seems to contain many more of them.

At one point, after my teacher demonstrated the throaty, guttural sound of a certain letter, I quipped to my seatmate that the letter sounded like the breathing of a lung cancer sufferer. I spoke a little too loudly, and the whole room heard, including my teacher. My fellow students laughed, but my teacher, a chain-smoker, did not.