Language Barriers While Travelling? What Language Barriers?
“Language is the biggest barrier to human progress because language is an encyclopedia of ignorance. Old perceptions are frozen into language and force us to look at the world in an old fashioned way.” – Edward de Bono
When I tell people that I accept invitations from fans to stay with them in countries all over the world … they often look at me like I am insane. Then they stare at the bipeds like they are completely mad. But, honestly it’s really just a kind of couch surfing, with an added 2 or more years of chatter on Facebook to break down the barriers. We never feel like strangers on our first face to face meetings with our hosts.
Admittedly, up until now we have gone mostly to the US on these little trips. Off to the Redlands to stay with Kiki and Alex, or Miami to stay with Anastasia and George or to Texas to visit Marlene and Stewart. And frankly, no one was overly concerned or worried after all “they speak English”.
But all that changed when we accepted a most gracious offer from Radmila, Slavcho and Pepi to visit them in … Bulgaria. Suddenly the eyebrows rose all around, often followed by: “But … how will you communicate?”
The thing is Dear Reader, people are constantly forgetting that verbal communication accounts for only a fraction of your exchange with others, human or not. I have never seen my bipeds not manage to get a point across when in foreign lands. Not in Greece, not in Italy … and not in Bulgaria. Plus, our hosts speak enough English that it really wasn’t going to be a huge problem. Between their English, our body language and Google translate on our phones; we knew we would manage just fine.
In fact I would say we had fun! Here is why.
When you don’t know the words to speak, you have to get physical! This means letting go of your ego and any fear of “looking silly”. Essentially, you end up playing a very long game of charades. It is amazing how fast the awkwardness of a new meeting crumbles when you have to gesticulate to be understood! You also have to touch more. Oddly, humans seem to feel that you have to really know a person very well to touch them. But when you don’t know how to say “thank you” or “I am sorry that happened to you” in words … what do you do? You hug, and hugs are really good for you! You end up touching a hand in compassion, you can point to a nose and ask “ok?” to find out if a nasty cold is any better … and on and on. This is stuff us canines understand instinctively. If I put my head in your lap, give your fingers a simple lick or curl up in the crook of your arm you would know I like you. No words needed… right?
That is how, within a very short time you have a sense of intimacy that would normally take much longer to develop when you have a large vocabulary at your finger… ummm… lip tips. And of course when your communication is based on being very physical you also let loose and do the silliest things because you know you have an audience… and because you can’t be funny with words by telling jokes.
So … this happens:
I seriously think that not speaking the language is one of the least valid excuses for not traveling. Never at a restaurant did the language barrier prove to be a real issue; nor at the B&B’s or Hotels either… and not with our hosts. It was a challenge at times, sure… but a surprisingly small one in our adventure.
Because language is so much more than just words.
It’s humbling to find yourself limited to broad strokes and not being able to communicate in fine detail. The magic in this is that you start to see the world in broad strokes too. You stop worrying about the little things, like how you look waking up and straight out of bed; yet, you feel a genuine thrill at the ear-to-ear smiles of those showing such obvious pleasure in seeing you.
Think about it; how many languages are there in the world between humans? And, I believe each and every human being is talking in his/her own personal language that has been shaped by their culture, experiences, profession, personality, and much more. So really, what are the chances of anyone meeting someone else who talks the exact same “language”, even if it is the same; say… such as… English. Hey! Now that I think about it, I understand the pure joy I hear in Mom’s voice when she says to someone else that she loves Dad because he understands her! I imagine that “understanding” has little to do with actual words.
As Red Auerbach said: “It’s not what you tell them…it’s what they hear.”
And that is the truest gift hidden within a language barrier. When you have to stop and think about “how” you can get your point across… you consider first if you should. The space between you and others isn’t filled with the noise of chatter, but only with what really needs to be said. You pay close attention to the person trying to communicate with you, instead of only half listening. The words are fewer, but the exchange often richer. Your world becomes an easy to read Coles Notes version without all the fluff and useless garnishing’s.
Its communication whittled down to its core essence. And folks … it’s wonderfully peaceful.