Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So American

DSCN8687

When we were abroad (we love that line around our house, especially said in a snooty, self-absorbed, aristocratic tone), we frequently felt stupid.

Miscommunications because of our mono-lingual state were aplenty. There was the time our friend Tim thought he was ordering one ice cream cone, but was actually ordering one teeny tiny scoop of ice cream. Or the time Ryan was yelled at by the grocery checker because he needed to purchase a plastic bag for his items and had to figure it out via charades. Or the many occasions our friend Kristin apologized, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English," when what she meant was, "I'm sorry, I only speak English."

Communication in Europe was simplified by the fact that 83% of everyone we came in contact with knew English. And, yes, you can argue that English is the language of business and commerce and the future and that's why everybody learns it, etcetera, etcetera. BUT. It is extremely humbling to walk around in a foreign land, looking for rough translations of recognizable words, and trusting that if you can't figure them out, a random teenage passerby can likely help you out. You can't help but realize that while he spent his youth learning a small handful of languages, you spent your youth trying to save the princess at the end of Mario Brothers.  I'll say it now and I'll say it again, it is invaluable to spend some time as a minority.

Never in my life have I wanted to learn or speak another language. My two years of French in middle school consisted of the same five worksheets and the same five episodes of French in Action, the french equivalent of Sesame Street. I passed both years with flying colors and without even the ability to order soup du jour at a restaurant. And I was completely okay with that.

However, as I wandered around Warsaw, Vienna, and Prague, I was overwhelmed with the urge to know another language. I wanted to be able to communicate, to tell the man that he dropped his paper, to  overhear what the girls at the tram station were complaining about, to ask the old woman in the square where to find the best loaf of bread.

Since I didn't know another language, I felt myself offering the far lesser next best thing, a bad French and/or Italian accent. In a crowd, I'd find myself uttering, "Eskoosee, eskoosee," or sometimes, "par-doan, par-doan." Other times, we'd be wandering a cobble stoned street and I'd unknowingly be mouthing "shockolot" over and over again.

Forget the fact that we visited neither France nor Italy. There is no reasonable explanation for this.

13 comments:

jennie w. said...

I totally remember French in Action with Mireille et Marie-Laure. Remember Mireille never wore a bra? Even with that tacky white shirt?

Soul-Fusion said...

I'm pretty sure there is one area of the brain (at least for me) that holds "foreign language" and regardless of what country I might be in and what language the people are speaking that sector sparks up and I find myself rehearsing everything in my limited French. Even in Japan.

Becky said...

Erik and I could do no better. I can recite a lovely poem in Spanish for all to hear while Erik can count to 10 in German like no one's business. But in Prague or Warsaw- we would have been useless. :) I love your blog!!

Kahler and Katy said...

I love reading about your travel experiences! I completely agree that we could all benefit from spending a little time as the minority. I'm currently living in Africa, in a country where most people speak English but they also speak at least one other language. (so I consider the language barrier similar to yours- English is enough to get by on, but you wish you knew more!) I'm learning so much, being so humbled, and having so much fun! :)

michele said...

i'm with alyssa on that "foreign language" section of the brain. it doesn't matter what country i'm in, if they are speaking a language other than english, i try to speak spanish to them.

Kelly Sperber said...

Too Funny!! We are supposed to meet Matt in Germany in May and I am scared to death of landing in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. Matt told me don't worry. EVERYBODY speaks English now.

The Coolest Allen Family said...

I went on a 3 week European study abroad trip when I was a student at Ricks College. We had 2 leaders that had done these tours for several years. When we were in Italy we were waiting in line for a museum to open up for the day. While in line a lady was trying to ask us a question but she didn't speak English and we didn't speak Italian. One of our leaders knew how to speak German, and for some odd reason, repeatedly asked the woman "spreken zie deutsch?". Finally in frustration the woman just walked away. I still laugh about that. He was such a dork!

Leslie said...

Love that picture, and love these cameos into your trip!

shockolot, shockolot, shockolot!

Mia said...

Well, I've got the minority part covered ;) But I am totally and utterly ashamed to admit that I don't speak Spanish. You would not believe how many times a Latin/Spanish/Mexican (ect) person has turned to me in a store hoping I could be the translator only to give them a blank look. Sad. Even sadder that my (white boy) husband is fluent in Spanish. He and my dad love to have conversations in Spanish just to tease/frustrate me. And at least you have "been abroad" I just can't seem to count my travels (Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean) as travel abroad. Some day!

Travelin'Oma said...

I love being somewhere where I can't understand the locals. It makes everybody seem exotic and sophisticated and I feel so cosmopolitan. It's like being in a book.

Angie said...

I felt like that in Paris, and I've had years of French. It struck me, though, that being in a foreign country didn't feel that foreign. People are pretty much the same everywhere.

Saying "when I was in..." will be fun for a long time :).

Omgirl said...

Ah-hahahaha! You are so funny! And I can totally relate. I found myself repeating foreign phrases as I fell asleep each night in Europe. Over and over and over and OVER. And when I'd wake up to pee, the record in my brain would continue "Tout de suite. D'accord." "Tout de suite. D'accord." Until I literally had to scream outloud to my brain, "Shut up already!!! Geez!" But then the rest of the night I'd find myself mumbling "ArrĂȘt !!! Zut alors!" "ArrĂȘt !!! Zut alors!" There's just no winning.

eassae said...

Don't forget the Scarlet Pimpernel.

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