The language barrier

Making new friends is essentially my favorite thing to do.  Back home, one might find it difficult to get me to stop socializing with strangers (but, they’re not strangers once you meet them, so…). If you think being half way across the world has made me any more introverted, you are incorrect.

So far, the language barrier hasn’t been all that much of a problem.  At least, for us.  Luckily for Americans, most people speak English here.  While it is almost everyone’s second (or third, fourth, fifth…) language, they can get by and I can meet them in the middle somewhere on the comprehension level.

It just gets tough when you find yourself in the basement of a Hookah bar in Amsterdam with 14 men from Spain trying to get you to play their version of Cheers Governor after you’ve already had a couple drinks.  Drinking games like this seem to be pretty international.  In the American version, the group sits in a circle and each person counts off.  However, the numbers 7 and 14 are switched.  So, the person who would typically say 7 says 14 and whoever is supposed to say 14 says 7.  Easy enough.  The group counts to 21 and cheers’, and everybody drinks.  Then, the person who 21 landed on makes a rule to replace another number with a different word, phrase, or action.  The Spanish version was similar but they only counted to 10 (thankfully for me, since that’s as high as I can count in Spanish).  Also, instead of simply starting over when a person messes up, in their version, that person is “out”.

Yesterday in Bruxelles, I had a similar experience playing Uno with some locals who only spoke French.  The rules are the same, all I needed to know was the colors (which I do).  But what you really get lost in is the conversation.  It’s so easy to take for granted coming from a country which half supports the sentiment “If you don’t speak our language then get out.”  (If you feel that way, you are disgusting, by the way.)  Luckily, my new friends did not feel that way at all.  I could pick up on bits and pieces of their chatter, occasionally someone would clue me in as to what they were laughing about.  It didn’t really bother me.  I’m learning that you don’t have to understand every word said in a conversation to be able to bask in the beauty of the moment and the experience of new friendship.

While the language itself hasn’t been a major issue, cultural differences can play a major role in what people think of you.  For instance, while it isn’t people’s favorite thing that I spit when I smoke cigarettes back home, here it’s rather uncouth.  Sitting outside an “American style” bar in Amsterdam (they had American football on TV inside, the Patriots were playing.) I spit on the ground.  Immediately, a very tall, very angry man came up to me.

“If you’re going to do that then you can leave,” he said.
“Oh, shit, sorry, I’ll stop, my bad…” I stuttered back.

I should have learned my lesson when I did the same thing in Egypt, I suppose, and known better.

Things like keeping total eye contact when you cheers become very important when you’re making a first impression on some one who doesn’t always fully understand what you’re saying.  Somehow, though, I seem to have managed to get by without offending anyone irreparably.  (Never did see that bouncer again, though, so who knows.)

Most of the time I’m just with these clowns, anyway.  While I might not speak tricking lingo fully, yet, we seem to get along just fine.


That’s most of our crew, Justin and Tricia not pictured.  There’s nothing quite like trying to mobilize and keep track of 18 or so humans constantly.  It takes us just about forever to get anywhere or do anything.

In Bruxelles, we have been sleeping on the floor of the rather large flat our new friend Adele has so graciously allowed us to crash in.  Some on mattresses, some air mattresses, I have opted to sleep directly on the floor.  I would not trade this corner of floor space in Europe for any king size bed in the US.

Tonight is our last night in Bruxelles, we leave for London first thing tomorrow.  The language barrier will no longer be an issue…for a few days, anyway.


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