Oh you speak Amharic? Say something!

ImageAm I some kind of puppet? I don’t understand.  If you want me to say something in Amharic all you have to do is speak to me in Amharic and you will hear me reply back.  OR if you don’t speak Amharic you can say, “how do you say ________” and I would gladly tell you.  But the phrase “OH YOU SPEAK AMHARIC< SAY SOMETHING!” is probably one of most annoying things to hear someone say.  It is particularly unnerving when people that do speak Amharic say this.  Dear Sir or Mam , why don’t you just try having a regular conversation with me.  If you speak to me in English I will reply in English, and if you speak to me in Amharic, I will reply to you in Amharic.  Whichever your preference, I’m flexible.  But then when I do speak in Amharic do not Gauk at me as though I am some unnatural specimen because I happen to be speaking the same language as you.  Do not get shocked when you hear me sing the words to Abonesh’s song Balageru, and do not act surprised when I quote lines from Helen Birhe’s song “Lebe” and do not get surprised that I know most of Teddy Afro’s songs by heart.  And then everytime I do something right, or in line with Ethiopian culture don’t say “ye germal eko”  (translated as, wow its so amazing).  Do not act shocked, when those of us who are Ethiopian Americans properly greet our elders, speak the language, or eat the food.  You see when we don’t, you shake your head in disappointment.  But then when we do, you stare jaw dropped on the ground and sing praises from atop the mountain, even years after you’ve known us.  In all seriousness my language, my culture, is simply a part of who I am.  It is not something I went out of my way to develop.  I did not go take a class, I simply was born into it, it is engraved in me.  Sometimes the awe that some people have to the fact I speak Amharic so well or know about my culture so much is so annoying that I want to be a smart ass and turn around and say “wow, you speak English.”

And above where I say I, I’m speaking from the perspective that other Ethiopian Americans like myself feel the same way.  Please do correct me if I’m wrong.

This is not a rant out of anger, and certainly not out of disappointment.  I’m simply pointing out the fact that Ethiopian Americans, like myself, that have the fortune of being raised and immersed in our Ethiopian Community, do not need to be reminded every second that others are impressed by our ability.  This is not a “skill” that I developed to impress anyone.  It is simply who I am.  It is not fake, it is not rehearsed.  I actually do speak Amharic as a natural reaction to hearing it around me.  When at home in my house with my parents 80% of the conversation is in Amharic.  So, when I am out in public speaking my mother’s native tongue, it is not a show, it is simply my natural state of being, it is a form of communication.  I think if some Ethiopians acted less shocked or fascinated that Ethiopian Americans spoke Amharic, then more would be likely to speak in the native tongue.  If more parents spoke to their children in their native tongue, the children would all speak the language.  There is nothing stopping any child from knowing the parent’s native tongue except for the parent.  Just because a child was born in America does not mean it does not have the ability to learn Amharic.  Simply speak and they will learn.  That’s how I learned.  That’s how my sister learned.

So Here’s my funny store:

As I was driving along somewhere in the DMV:

I approached the parking lot attendant, who was very clearly Ethiopian, to pay for my parking pass, he took the ticket, looked at me and the conversation went like this:

Parking attendant: Are you Ethiopian?(In English)

Me: Yes (In English)

Parking Attendant: Do you speak Amharic? ( In English)

Me: Yes (In English)

Parking Attendant: How are you? (In English)

Me: Dena Egzabier Ye mesgen.  (Translation: Fine thanks be to God and bows head slightly in proper greeting format) ( in Amharic)

Parking Attendant: O Wow , Very Nice (In English)

Me: Ishe dena eder (Ok have a good night). (In Amharic)

Parking Attendant: Ishe Dena dere. (Ok good night) (In Amharic, Note his first Amharic phrase to me).


Take what you want from this story, but I was amused that He asked me everything in English, thinking I didn’t understand after I clearly said I did, and I responded to him in Amharic, his native tongue, and he still refused to reply to me in Amharic.

Just saying , my perspective, as an Ethiopian American Girl.

6 thoughts on “Oh you speak Amharic? Say something!

  1. Very well presented. I might be guilty of this myself. Let me be on the defensive and present the point of view from the other side. I am almost certain that you are one of the exceptional once who are born and raised here from two Ethiopian couple and speak in Amharic. It is that rareness that creates the surprise. The “Wow! you speak Amharic!” is partly from pride, partly from admiration, at least from my own experience. I don’t see this as coming from any other angle. But, don’t worry. You are being appreciated not ridiculed nor mocked at.
    Beterefe, I am a big fan of your blog.
    Please keep it coming. We want to understand.

    1. Thanks !
      I completely understand the differing perspectives. The experience in and of itself is what I am writing about and while I know its not from a perspective of ridicule, sometimes the “shock” people have creates an equal reaction from me, or whomever the person is. (every action has an equal and opposite reaction ;-))
      I’m glad you are liking the blog. I’m just sharing my perspective on the world 🙂 And love hearing your feedback

  2. omg!!! I have never related to a post this much! I LOVE this, SOOOO true and well-written. This is exactly how I feel about this topic, we’ve talked about this before, but your post really embodies my emotions on this matter. Great job Hilu 🙂

  3. Wow your smart and I like your tone. Unfortunately I’m Ethiopian and don’t speak the language. I know the culture very well, but not taken seriously and kind of brushed off withy the rest of Ethiopians my age because I can not communicate with them in native tongue. Thus, as I get older I resent not know the language and completely want to identify my self as American who happens to be Ethiopian.

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