Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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.