Rhiannon said she was very impressed that Paola spoke--or was learning Arabic, and Paola couldn't help blinking with surprise. Most people she knew spoke English and Tunisian Arabic; Aunt Sara also spoke Tagalog, and most of the older staffers spoke French as well. Being barely bilingual was nothing extraordinary in the world she had just come from.
In any event, Paola had not learned Arabic with any thought of impressing her future class- (and possibly room-) -mates. It was, in fact, a little weird that Rhiannon was impressed. Was being bilingual less common here?
"My dad works at the American embassy in Tunisia," Paola explained, "and I've been living there with him. So knowing Arabic is less..." As she thought, Paola gestured a vague circle with the hand that wasn't still holding her underspiced and cooling sambal. "It's not something I just learned in school because it's the sort of thing people learn in school, like how to write essays." Dad and all the adults she knew wrote lots of reports, but the ones she was allowed to see looked nothing like the boring five paragraph bricks she had to churn out for Literature class. She was pretty certain the reports she wasn't allowed to see didn't look like her school essays, either. "It's useful." And its usefulness had made Paola much more willing to learn it than how to write a boring five paragraph essay.
"What about you? Do you speak any other languages?" she asked Rhiannon. "Also, have you seen one of those elf-creatures around with hot sauce?" She indicated her bowl. "This is not spicy enough."