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08 August 2014 @ 07:30 am
Travel makes you stupid  
When I woke up yesterday I could read and write, and ask questions and understand the answers. Today, not so much.

One of the pleasures of travel is practicing a foreign language, which I enjoyed greatly during our time in France. But now we're in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, and I get to have a different adventure: attempting to communicate despite not speaking a word of the local lingo.

Admittedly, in this case I'm not that severely handicapped. Our generous hosts, Roelof and Lynne Ann, are a native speaker and longstanding inhabitant respectively; Kate has studied Dutch in the past; and between my knowledge of German and some previous exposure to Dutch I can puzzle out much of the signage and a little of the spoken language. But my ability to produce Flemish is essentially nil, so I've been doing a lot of smiling and nodding.

One thing I've discovered on this trip is that the techniques we learned from Rick Steves' Europe through the Back Door thirty (!) years ago are no longer as useful as they were then, because so many transactions have been automated. Gesture, mime, and pointing don't help at all when you're trying to get something (money, bus tickets, gasoline, parking, tolls) from a machine with a schmancy audio-video interface. On the other hand, some of those machines now have instructions in English -- in fact, a few of them switch to English immediately upon insertion of a US credit card. But the translation is often weak, and frequently includes bits of untranslated local language like rum-soaked raisins in the cake. It's a mixed bag.

The bottom line, though, is that one of the big reasons I travel is to have different experiences and stretch my mind, and working in a culture where I don't speak the language is a big part of that. So vive la difference! *

* I wanted to put that in Dutch, but I couldn't figure out how. Which only goes to show.
billeyler: Airplanebilleyler on August 8th, 2014 02:47 pm (UTC)
One of the interesting aspects of visiting Kenya that I didn't know in advance was that all signage is in Official British English. Even if their accent is so thick you could cut it with a knife, you can certainly get along there nicely without the need of translators. Not quite so much in Tanzania, where English is a 2nd language, rather than an official one. But at least Swahili is an unaccented language in the same way that English is, so you can look up things rather easily without having to know arcane accent configurations (like Turkish or Polish).

Most of Europe was a blur to me (in sign reading) 3 years ago when we did our Mediterranean cruise from Istanbul to Madrid. I had difficulty with most of the signage there. In Kenya, it was wonderful!
They Didn't Ask Me: smirking-winsletdr_phil_physics on August 8th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
Most Finns speak decent English. And many signs are in three languages: Finnish, Swedish and English. But at the Helsinki Zoo, some of the exhibit signs in 2003 were just in Finnish and Swedish. So... we tried to make sense of the Swedish via German. Which worked up to a point. But much hilarity ensued.

Dr. Phil
scarlettinascarlettina on August 9th, 2014 02:24 pm (UTC)
Rick Steves 20 years ago? Maybe you ought to pick up a more recent Through the Back Door... :-)
et in Arcadia egobooapostle_of_eris on August 9th, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
ooh, ooh, ooh! If I'm not too late, hello to Roelof and Lynne Ann.
& btw, Google translate says "Vive la verschil!", which looks fishy to me.