After the museum the other day, we hit a little cafe in Paris. Nothing fancy, just something we could afford near the museum. While sitting there nearly every person that came in ordered in English (tourists). It was irritating to me. Can I soap box for a second?
Note to all who travel... TRY! Learn a couple words and try to speak the language of whatever place/people you go to visit. It really bugged me in East Africa when westerners came in and expected everyone to know their language and culture. I remember getting really mad when we were on vacation at Victoria Falls. One English guy was at the front counter of our hotel paying a bill of some sort. The hotel employee gave him his bill in Kwatcha, the currency of Zambia. The customer then demanded to know the price in British Pounds, essentially writing off the number he’d just been handed as useless. The employee tried to explain that the local currency is the, ‘ahem’, local currency, and that’s pretty much all he knew. For about ten minutes this guy yelled and cursed and demanded to see a manger because he wanted to know the price in British Pounds. Seriously? Are they supposed to know the daily rates of every currency in the world? He kept at it until someone walked over to the hotel’s courtesy computer and looked up exchange rates on the internet and then went back and made the calculation.
Here, we try as hard as we can, and most times we repeat ourselves because we’re not understood. I know the French are sort of obsessive about their language and accept nothing less than perfection, but it also breaks down a huge wall when you simply try! I also know that we have a luxury that most people don’t have, which is language school. We get to study this language in country until we master it. We did the same with Swahili. But not with chi’Nyanja, or kiLuguru, or KiHehe, or Arabic. After a week in Zambia we could greet a passerby and ask about their day, wow did that produce smiles and open hearts and homes! Same thing on our honeymoon in Mexico.
Living in Europe now we’re closer than ever before to a multitude of languages and cultures. Every planed trip we make across a language barrier will start with a simple learning of a few words and phrases, and that learning will continue throughout our visit.
Travelers, I implore you to put it on yourself to learn about the language and culture of the places and peoples you are visiting. It will make your trip better, and you may make some friends along the way.
And put it on yourself to do this at home too. Want to learn how to make friends and influence the lives of foreign nationals living around you? Start with a new language hello and a learner’s attitude toward their culture. You just might discover a world and passion you never knew existed. And you may very well see lives changed along the way.