I’m sure most foreign exchange students enjoy their sojourns in America and look kindly on their host families. Equally, I don’t doubt that most host families are well-meaning souls who appreciate their temporary lodgers and treat them excellently. And then there’re the exceptions, like Luis and Bill.
Luis is a high school exchange student from Venezuela. He’s spent the past school year living with a client of mine, “Bill,” and Bill’s family. Last night I met Luis for the first time, at the dinner to which Sophia and I had been invited.
To be honest, I never thought Bill’s invite arose from unconditional human kindness. I suspected unseen strings the moment he extended his dining offer. Those suspicions proved correct too, as Bill’s mealtime chatter veiled multiple requests for free legal advice!
Bill’s behavior didn’t surprise me, since I’ve always thought him a bit of a dick. He’s the kind of guy who not only pays each invoice late, but regularly seeks to chisel down the total as well! He sees nothing wrong with such conduct either. As he says every time he hondles me: “I’m a businessman Richard, and I have to keep an eye on the bottom line. You understand, don’t you?”
My client introduced us to his chubby border from abroad in typically acerbic “Billish” fashion: “I’d like you to meet our Venezuelan exchange student, Luis. He needs to eat a lot less and exercise a lot more, but we like him anyway. Isn’t that right, Luis?”
The boy responded to his host’s backhanded compliment with the first of several A.O.K. gestures that evening. Accompanying his verbal “Yes, Mr. Bill,” the smiling teen formed a circle with his thumb and index finger, while raising his remaining three fingers. He offered the balance of his nonverbal approval signs in response to questions from me; specifically, “Do you enjoy living with Bill and his family?” and “Have you become good friends with Bill’s son?” In reply to each query, Luis grinned, said “Mr. Bill?” or “Tom?”, and enthusiastically flashed the A.O.K. sign.
While driving home, Sophia commented that appearances may’ve been deceiving. When I mentioned my surprise at how much Luis likes Bill and his kid, she said: “I’m not so sure, honey. You might want to see if the ‘A.O.K.’ sign has a different meaning in Venezuela.”
As a matter of fact, it does! A quick Google search confirmed that the Venezuelan connotation of the gesture differs significantly from its indication of approval here. According to Wikipedia, the A.O.K. sign in the South American country “is a very offensive gesture, regarded as a reference to homosexuality, and reflecting a wider than usual (due to anal sex) anus of a homosexual man.”
I can’t wait till Bill next asks if I understand his need to pare down my already reasonable invoice for legal services … so I can answer him with the A.O.K. sign!