“I’m lonely here,” I say to my dad on the phone while eating a cold ćevapi. It’s been a couple of weeks, and the loneliness is creeping into my bones. I asked my brother to help me meet people, but he says in between working out, trimming his pubes, and playing football, he doesn’t have much time. I understand.
“What did you expect?” My dad says without remorse. “You just think people are going to run up to you and ask to be your friend? It’s not Canada. If you want friends, you need to go out and make them.”
“But I don’t know how,” I whine on the other end of the receiver. The last time I had to make friends was when I was in kindergarten. “I don’t even speak the language. I just, I just want to come home.”
“If you want to make friends, you need to speak their language. It’s the only way you’ll understand the culture and how people think,” he replies softly. “So, go learn Serbian, it’s not that hard.”
He was right. I didn’t want him to be right, but he was. So, I start searching online for language classes and come across one place that teaches Serbian. Perfect! I give them a call and arrange my first class. That’s it; I’m going to learn Serbian.
It’s my fourth Serbian lesson, and I arrive at the school with a pencil and notepad in hand. I don’t care what I need to do; I’m going to learn this language and make some friends. You already know how to say hi, and how are you. It’s not that hard.
The teacher enters the classroom robotically. Aside from being pigeon-toed, she’s wearing a royal purple shirt, and a black knee-length skirt paired with red lipstick. In other words, you can see she has a degree in linguistics.
Without saying a word, she stands in front of the class, grabs a dry marker, and writes on the board ‘Padazi.’
“Padazi” she says, repeating it, slowly pacing back and forth like a Sergeant. “This is what I’m going to be teaching you over the next six weeks. You will learn the seven different forms and how to use them appropriately.”
I raise my hand, shyly, “I’m sorry, what’s padazi?”
She giggles softly to herself as if she’s keeping a sinister secret, “ah yes, sorry, my mistake. In English, they’re called cases or noun declensions.” Well, this doesn’t sound good.
I stare at her blankly as she gets the hint and continues talking. “Depending on what you want to say, there’s a specific ending you need to use.” She pauses, tapping the marker on her chin, “for example, if you want to buy carrots, you would use the genitive case. If you want to show the location of an object you would use locative.”
I can feel the sweat starting to form around my hairline, I couldn’t even pass English class, what the hell is this shit?
“I don’t get it,” I reply without raising my hand. “If the padazi didn’t exist, people would still understand the sentence, right?”
“So then, like, I just don’t get it. Why can’t I just tell someone that I’m going to the park or that I want ten carrots without changing the endings to any of the words? Why can’t I just say it as I would say it in English?” I realize immediately that my teacher is about to have a nervous breakdown. Her eyes are bulging, her skin is sweaty, and her upper lip is twitching uncomfortably. I think she’s going to kill me, holy shit, she’s going to blow.
In an effort to diffuse the situation, I rephrase my point, “I just feel this language would be easier to learn without padazi, you know what I mean?”
She slams her hand in the desk, yelling as she stomps her feet on the ground, “You need the padazi! You just need it!”
“Yup,” I say quietly, “I agree completely.”
“God damnit, you need the padazi!” I can see her preparing a monologue, one that I’m not sure would win an Oscar, but I have no choice, I must listen.
“This isn’t English; it’s Serbian.” She sneers, “anyone can speak English, any idiot can learn it, but the Serbian language is poetry, it’s art. You Americans are all the same. Always looking for the easy way out. In Serbia, there is no easy way out!” She pauses momentarily, before sliding her sweaty hand through her hair, leaving a greasy tinge on the roots.
“Forgive me,” she says, pulling her purple shirt down, “you’re learning art, not some run-of-the-mill language where you need to know that the ‘h’ is silent in ‘night,’ or that the ‘k’ is silent in ‘know.’ There are seven cases, and you’re going to learn all of them! Every single one! Do you understand!”
“I’m actually Canadian,” I reply. Well thought out, Natasha.
She stares at me intensely, the veins in her eyes bursting into small pools of blood. I take the hint and grab my things, “great class, can’t wait to learn padazi,” I tuck in my chair, “it already sounds like a lot of fun,” I walk towards the door, “next class will be great!”
I leave the class alive, and ten minutes later receive a call from the school. “Hello Natasha, this is Svetlana, the receptionist from school. We’re sorry to inform you, but your teacher is on holiday for the next couple of weeks. So, Igor will be filling in for her.”
“Wow,” I reply. “See what padazi does to people!”