As far as I can calculate, our foreign exchange student, Mamdouh, knows, with confidence, no more than seven words of English. These are Yes, No, Hi, Bye, Now, and No problem.
As a rule, foreign exchange students will tend to learn more of English as they mix in with our conversation and culture. In the case of Mamdouh, however, I believe he has actually learned less of English than he started with.
I asked him the other day, for instance, whether he would prefer a piece of toast or a waffle, and he said Yes.
I asked if this meant he wanted both, and he said Now?
You see how it goes?
At another time I had loaned him my cigarette lighter for a moment. When, later, I could not find the lighter, and asked him about it, he told me that this was No problem.
I expressed my feeling that it may not be a problem to him, but it was, in fact, a bit of a problem for me.
Yes, he answered.
We have not seen Mamdouh for three days now. While the rest of the city lies frozen in the present blizzard of snow and ice, Mamdouh is out somewhere driving with his buddies in his new Camry, no snow tires, no chains, no experience.
It is, as he says, No problem.