Traveling and the Language Barrier

Any seasoned traveler will tell you it’s a good idea to speak a few words of the language spoken in your destination country. If you’re going to France, you should try to parley vous Francais. If you’re in Spain, habla espanol. And certainly, if you’re in England, you should be able to speak the King’s (actually, I guess the Queen’s) English.

Because when you can’t, that’s where you run into problems. Or, as they say in England, problems.

My first day in London, I was by myself as my husband had to stay in America an extra day thanks to the scourge of life that is lawyering. Or attempted lawyering (the passing of all the tests needed to be a lawyer). So, upon arrival, I dropped off my things, got a free drink in the hotel bar (mango mint tea) and went exploring- more on that later.

And, after a long day of exploration, I decided to take my custom (that’s a nice Britishy phrase) to my neighborhood pub. This may have marked a milestone for me, being possibly the first time I have ever been to a bar or pub alone.

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I typically either travel with a husband in tow or in a pack of females (maybe not a pack – what’s the plural for this? A gossip of girls? A giggle of girls?). So, I ordered a pint and sat down in a corner to write notes on the day, which shall be transcribed later.

And then, the embarrassing moment struck.

A man walked up to me, a nice-ish, 40-ish looking man. I was thinking maybe I looked like a local, because he said to me, in English, and I quote, “bla bla bla din charcrah?” So, I said, “What?” Patiently, he repeated, “Blah blah din Charin Crah?” And I thought, “Aha! I’ve got it – Charing Cross station! I totally read that in Harry Potter (which is where approximately 59 3/4 of my London Tube knowledge comes from).” Aloud, I say, “What?” “blah blah dinne Charin Crah – bout ten minnes from hea?” And I think with triumph, “He’s totally asking me for directions. I look like a local – confirmed!” But I don’t know any directions that don’t start with the Westminster Station, so I say, “I’m sorry I can’t understand you.” This happens twice more, at which point you would think any normal person would give up and get their directions from someone who’s not as ditzy and deaf as Ron Weasley’s Auntie Muriel.

But finally, he goes slowly as befits talking to someone as slow as I must seem and finally I comprehend. “Wouud yew laike to go to dinneh wi me neah Charin Crah?” Or, in American, ” Would you like to go to dinner with me near Charing Cross?” Or, more bluntly on a date. Yiii!

Now, since the last time I was asked out was by the guy with three teeth who replaced my flat tire at Walmart (actually that was a proposal, so a little different), I was not at all prepared for this. So, charmingly, I say, “You…. Want me… To go to dinner… With you?”

And as soon as I say it, I feel terrible, because of course, it sounds insulting, like I’m too good to go to dinner with him. And, I really think it must be terrible to be a man and have to ask people out. Seriously, if you are a woman, I’m pretty sure you can approach almost any man and ask him out and he will probably say yes, because if a woman’s coming in to you, there’s probably a distinct possibility she will be interested in sleeping with you, but men don’t have that guarantee. So, I’m feeling sorry for this guy, but he’s just relieved that I finally have comprehended him. And then, I said, possibility of a free meal notwithstanding, “I’m married.”

And he looked so horrified. And then he experienced the kind of word vomit that I wasnt even aware the reserved British are capable of, something about being sorry for being so sleazy and something about not realizing it and something about how I have the Wynona Ryder look (which I don’t agree with at all by the way – here’s the pic I took of myself for Wynona comparison sake).

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Those things, surprisingly enough, were easier to understand than the asking out portion of the conversation so either my ears got better or the shock decreased his thick accent.

And that’s how I learned the hard way that I don’t actually speak English. Or at least English-British-English, I only and proudly speak Texan. But I will fortify my vocab with some more Jane Austen, Harry Potter and Collin Firth before next time I head to a pub.

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