The Paris Review

One Word: Understand

In our column One Word, writers expound on a single word of their choosing. 

1947 production of Romeo and Juliet (photo: Angus Mcbean)

On an international flight many years ago, I sat beside an old Eastern European man who spoke no English. He occupied the aisle seat and communicated with me by tapping my shoulder when the attendant came by, or by extending an open palm to pass my trash to her. We were eating a meal silently and, I thought, companionably in the near-dark, hunched over our trays, when he reached over and took my dinner roll. He didn’t make eye contact with me. He simply unwrapped my roll, took a bite, and then went on to eat the whole thing.

There was nothing ambiguous about it. The dinner roll was on my tray, and he’d already finished his own. Had he assumed I was done with my meal?

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