Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Where Is Your Family From?"

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mom, where are we from?” Tess asked.

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Are we Irish or French or Russian or Spanish or what?”

“Why do you ask?”

“We are studying geography, and the teacher wants us to tell where our parents and grandparents are from. If they spoke a different language, not English, we are to tell how to say, ‘How are you?’ in it.”

“That’s interesting. Your father and I were both born in America, so were our parents, your grandparents. Some of your great-grandparents came from some other countries, though.”

“Like where?”

“Let’s see…England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on your father’s side. France, Germany, Italy, and Russia on mine. You kids are a real mix!”

“What language would I say ‘How are you?’ in.”

“They spoke Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland and some other language in Wales, but you can use English.”

“That’s no fun. How about French, from Dad’s side of the family?”

“We’ll work on it: ‘Comment allez-vous?’ which sounds like ‘Come on tally voo?’”

After a few tries, Tess was pretty good at it. Her dad overheard their talk, and ‘put in his two cents,’ giving them his opinion. “It’s interesting to know how other people speak, and if you were to go to their country, you would want to be able to speak their language, although English is spoken around the world these days.”

“Tess, we can guess some of the languages from the last names of the kids in school. That tells something about the father’s family.”

“Really? O’Reilly?”

“Irish,” Mr. W. said quickly.


“Italian,” Mrs. W. offered.

And so it went: Churnetski-Polish, Kawasaki-Japanese, Bouvier-French, Kaufmann-German, Lee-Chinese [May Lee, close friend], Gonzalez-Spanish, and so on.

“How about Twitchell?” asked Tess.

“Sounds British,” said Mr. W.

“Fooled you on that one. She’s Korean, adopted.”

Mrs. Williams commented, “Many people want to live here. A nice thing about America is how well very different groups of people usually get along. They often add some of the best from their home countries.”

The next day, in geography class, about a dozen of the students offered “How are you?” in the language of parents or grandparents, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, German, Chinese, Japanese, and even Bantu.

“How about you, Tess?” her teacher asked.

“We’re a mix. I could try French, but American English was my grandparents’ language, so I’ll just say…what’s up?”

The teacher laughed, and so did the kids.


One of our 50 instructive short stories for young readers.

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