Tuesday, August 19, 2008

THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE

I've noticed that language is taking on a bigger part of our trip than I initially thought. I assumed that the ability to smile, say "hello, good-bye, thank you, etc." would carry us into a country, allow us to be somewhat a part of their culture, and let us leave with a feeling of knowing the people there. I now believe the inability to communicate outside the family unit is having a cumulative effect. Where at the beginning I wanted to hear "foreign voices" and "feel foreign", now I want an in depth conversation with someone almost as bad as a person in a desert wants a drink of water.

You would think that in the ten weeks that I have been gone, the short ten minute conversations I have had so far in English would be of little importance to me. Not so, young Englishman! On Sunday we attended a puppet show at the Ljubljanska Grad (castle). lisa heard the woman in front of us speaking to her child in English with an American accent. After talking with her for awhile, she disclosed she was most recently from Chicago where she lived with her Slovene husband for seven years. They moved to Ljubljana six months ago. She had, I'm guessing, a two year old with her. She described the process of taking language classes. She couldn't take too much time daily because of her child but also had no desire to take the intensive 3 1/2 hour per day classes available here. It is really a lot of work, but necessary. After six months she can do well with menus and grocery stores, but still has a hard time conversing with someone about even the simplest of items or events. Try having a heart to heart with your newest friend when you cannot conjugate verbs properly. Her high school French classes for two years did little to help her since Slovene is a Slavic language unlike the romance language she learned years ago.

So, after awhile, you can sense the desire to speak to someone in a language that transmits facts, feelings, and deep emotions. I remember the ten minutes at the Bull Pub in Krakow talking to the Floridians who live there and in Krakow. We spoke of high real estate prices in the "found areas of Eastern Europe", of Helen and Joanna from Melbourne (see blog post on Marko Polo Ferry), of Ann and Eric from Sweden who spoke of the differences of "peoples" in Europe. After experiencing the war exhibit in Dubrovnik, I've wanted to have an in-depth conversation with someone from the Balkans on how fellow neighbors can kill each other. I can't find anyone. I don't feel comfortable on this toxic topic to just walk up and start a conversation..."Do you know English...why did you all kill each other".

Talking to shopkeepers in Holland and here, or Eelco selling bikes in Haarlem, or now Katja or Tanja at the Chocolate Shop here (funny that we have discovered ANOTHER chocolate shop) or even the Hertz man just doesn't cut it. The maintenance person for our apartment dropped in while I was preparing this and it was nice to experience three-four minutes of conversation. It might take him two hours to change some light bulbs if I have my way.

It doesn't matter how much a person smiles or is simply nice to you without even speaking. If no information, factual or sensual, is transferred, the sensation of neatness fades. There was a nice lady in the butcher shop in Krakow. She did this...smiled at me...laughed as I mooed for beef and oinked for pork...and smiled again..then giggled to her counterparts behind the counter.

When you talk to Americans its almost always about travel and "why are you here and for how long". It's better to speak to Brits or Aussies because you can see their perspective on things vs. just talking "places". We were able to discuss Slovenia with Katarina, the "professorica" from our Slovene language class. She discussed the effect that having stronger neighbors, Italy, Austria, Croatia had on their national feelings. Also the impact of being a small country has on peoples' thoughts about their nation. The conversation was wonderful but short lived because I could tell she wanted to get out of there and go home.

Help Slovenes and soon Italians.....speak to me for a long time and make it about something interesting. This thirsty guy will take it in a 64 ounce cup.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Marty,

I feel your pain.......perhaps hang around the University in whatever city you are in, as I am sure there are students that speak English and are more than willing to practice it while expressing their political/philosphical thoughts to a visitor to their country. Just a thought. D

Lynelle said...

Interesting to know.