Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Are you and Ugly American: Part 3 of 10

Budget Travel’s tips to avoid being a jerk abroad:

Use Clear English

Why I’m apparently an Ugly American:

When it comes to trying to communicate with non-English speakers, my options are limited. Thank the satellites floating in space, everyone knows a little English. At least I like to thank so.

How my communication cookie crumbles:

"I speak good English as Second Language. I think. I try no conjugate verbs so other persons who no speak English much, understand. Yes?"

No? Let me see how I can put this.

"I speak (with one hand I motion like a puppet, with the other I point to my mouth) good (thumbs-up, big smile) English as second (hold up two fingers) language. I think (point to head). I try no conjugate verbs (scratch my head as I search for the proper way to mime this and find none) so other persons (point to puzzled listener) who no Speak English much (again, with the puppet hand and pointing to my head), understand (hold up hands in questions and give big smile)? Yes?"

No? You still don’t understand. Let me try again.

I repeat the phrase complete with eccentric sign language except this time I speak with a strange accented staccato, which even an English speaker would not likely comprehend.


I give an I’m-a-big-idiot smile and dismiss myself from the situation.

I may look and sound like a fool, but am I ugly for it? Now, before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t think that everyone should speak English. I usually try to work in as much of the local language as I know, which is often slim to none.

It’s kind of pathetic - I spent 16 years in school and speak only one language. I’ve hung out with people who have had next to no schooling that carry on conversations in 4 different languages. This happened when I was in Nicaragua trying to get on the lobster boat. Some of the sailors spoke English, Spanish, Creole, and Moskito.

With that being said, I have been in few situations where I wasn’t able to communicate with someone regardless of how little English they understood and how little of their language I understood. In Bosnia I once went on a hike with a guy who Spoke Albanian and no English. We communicated through a pocket-size Enlish/Albanian dictionary. When I think back to the hike, I remember whole conversations not frustrations from the lack of a shared language.

Who needs words anyhow?

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