The beauty of travel lies in the universe of languages and customs one experiences. At a resort they all co-mingle. Tonight we ate dinner in a Korean restaurant, served by waiters from the Dominican, Mexico and Cuba while sitting next to a couple from Germany. When we ordered our wine in Spanish, our waiter literally lit up. He then assisted us in the rest of the Spanish we needed to know to get through the meal.
But I need to go back. We were never that good at this. When visiting our daughter in Spain we didn’t need to speak as she took care of all conversation for us. But then came time to say goodbye to Kathryn. It was Sunday and we were outside the downtown district of Barcelona. After a nearly 20 minute wait for the only taxi to come by, my sobbing wife and I said our goodbyes and waved as the taxi pulled away. As my wife tried to dry her tears, I said “don’t stop now”. That taxi took 20 minutes, we don’t speak a lick of Spanish and I am pretty sure neither one of us knows the name of the hotel. After a 15 minute walk toward what we hoped was a busier area, a taxi suddenly appeared and pulled over, door open, waving us in. The driver knew no English and we could only say “del mar” as it was the only part of the hotel name we could remember. We later learned that “del mar” only meant “by the sea” and everything i that area was referred to by that phrase added to the name. We somehow magically wound up at our hotel and it wasn’t until 3 months later in the O’hare Airport, picking Kathryn up upon her return that we figured out our good luck with the taxi driver in Barcelona. Kathryn sidles up to me and says”how did you like your taxi ride” She had rescued us without our even knowing.
The lesson learned that day was to try harder. We have traveled more since then and though we still can’t speak Spanish, we give it our best shot. This morning at breakfast I greeted the hostess in my best Spanish phrases and then gave our room number in Spanish as well. Upon over hearing this, the waiter gave me a fist bump and then took off in the fastest, seemingly longest non-stop conversation until the hostess begged him to stop. I told him I had picked up “mi amigo” and “mi amiga” and that was it. He laughed heartily and asked me to not stop trying because he was proud of our efforts.
And that is the secret to successful travel. Don’t stop trying to communicate. As much as we harp about new immigrants not speaking our language, we as Americans traveling abroad are often too lazy. We just act helpless and expect them to speak to us in our language. Only when we try, do the doors open and the warmth and friendship come out.
To that end, we will not stop trying.