On day 216, I worked on gathering up content for an article over on Bootsnall discussing some of the more awkward situations that come about during solo travel (article next week). During my collection, I realized that a lot of the ideas came from not being able to communicate with someone in a foreign language. We’ve all had those truly uncomfortable situations where you get to your breaking point because you can’t seem to get what you want without a personal translator.
I remember a time, prior to my Spanish language-learning days, I tried to ask for help, but got the exact opposite. After arriving in Spain for my archaeological dig back in 2007, I had a week to spend in Barcelona to sort of get myself used to the time difference, and just make the most of my plane ticket. It was at this time that my mind was fried from working day in and day out of IT phone support; anything I had learned about languages before this trip (or about anything besides computer jargon) was no longer a part of my vocabulary.
On one day I decided to make it out to Figueres to see the Dali Museum, and that involved taking the train. It always seems like train stations in Europe are a bit hectic. I remember walking in and being a little overwhelmed as passersby frantically scurried to ticket machines and to ticket counters.
I thought the ticket machines would be the way to go, given that many I’ve used in the past in Europe had an English button. When I made it to the front of the line, I was gobsmacked because I just couldn’t figure it out. Even though I know that Spanish is supposed to look very similar to English, I wasn’t able to make out any words in my anxiety, and I definitely wasn’t able to find an English button to translate. As a last resort (I had people behind me), I asked the lady in a line to the my right, “English?” while pointing at the screen.
The lady scooted her way over to my screen, pretending to be interested in my gestures and words, as I continued to say, “English,” and point in different places on the screen for a few more seconds. At that point, the lady kind of waved me off and started clicking away on the screen.
Was she buying me a ticket?
The lady finished her order, inserted money, took the ticket and ran off.
I was left in a daze and still without a ticket, not to mention more flustered than I was before.
So, I bit the bullet and headed to the extremely long ticket counter lines.