German,French,Hebrew… nothing is Greek to them any more

A suave-sounding voice answers the call on cab driver Jude Samson’s number.

Written by Joyce William John | Pune | Published: June 17, 2013 1:47 am

A suave-sounding voice answers the call on cab driver Jude Samson’s number. Take the conversation forward and Samson rattles off in fluent English about life,work and the likes.

Samson,who works with Max Mueller Bhavan,knows he takes people by surprise. But the real surprise he springs is when he meets German guests at the airport and speaks to them in their mother tongue.

”I am not very fluent but I can manage a conversation. I can understand even better,” says Samson modestly. Working with expats for 30 years now,he picked up the language on the job and has undergone no formal training. “Typically,I wish them in German and ask after their well being. Sometimes,if they are being harassed by shopkeepers,or being fleeced,I speak to them in German and help them strike a good deal. It makes the guests warm up to me and they in turn give a good report about me at office,” says Samson,who also gets gifts from Germany as tokens of appreciation.

Samson is among a league of drivers and housekeepers in the city who are busting stereotypes and picking up foreign languages — other than English,which they are usually already fluent in — so they can service the expats better. In what turns out to be a win-win deal,while the skill ensures better job opportunities for the locals,it makes foreigners feel more comfortable on Indian soil.

Sachin Pandurang Nimbalkar,28,has studied only till Class X but his voice pumps with confidence when he talks about being able to converse in German. Working as a driver at ZE Lenksysteme India Pvt Ltd,Nimbalkar says he is “very good with official words”. “I only need to catch what the topic is and everything else makes sense,” he says,adding that he has been listening carefully to pick up the language. “It helps me on the job too. In the previous company,also a German multinational,my language skills got me increments and promotions,” he says. The flip side,as Nimbalkar points out,is that he sometimes becomes privy to personal and confidential matters of his bosses. “I think it sometimes restricts them from discussing all that they want to,” he says.

Driving for people from various countries,Ravi Chakranarayan has alternated between different languages. “I picked up a little French as I worked nine years for a French man,then it was Thai because my next boss’ wife was from Thailand. I worked for some Israelis,too,and ended up learning a little bit of Hebrew. That is most fresh in my mind right now,” says Chakranarayan.

Spending most hours of the day with expat wives and children,housekeepers find it very useful to learn the family’s language. Aarti Kiran Randhir,a Class III-pass,has been working for expats in Aundh. Comfortable with English,she even doubles up as a translator for her employers. “I have been with German families for three or four years and can tell the family that food is ready,or that it is hot so they need to be careful or that they are looking good. Of course,I can greet and say goodbye too,apart from some other essentials,” she says.

While Randhir is happy to learn something new and have a special skill that many don’t have,she says she is not the only one. “I have friends who are also working as maids for German families and are able to talk in the language with their employers just like I can,” she says.

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