The advantage of being an American is that we can travel so widely and assume that someone will speak English. It’s also THE biggest thing that makes me feel tied to the Grid.
So – no surprise – some of my favorite and most memorable experiences of travel have happened when I find myself in a place where no one understands me.
Like the morning I tried to explain to the chief prosecutor why I had traveled to Mexico City to visit a friend-of-a-friend serving a sentence in a Mexican jail. (My mediocre Spanish was not really the issue…)
Or the rainy Sunday morning I was scheduled to meet someone in Mikulov, Czech Republic. The people at the train station (the ones who even looked at me) just shrugged. I caught the wrong bus. (Not a big deal – I got off in the next town and sat with a delicious cappuccino while the waiter called a cab.)
Or the little grocery store in Iceland where even the pictures on the labels didn’t help.
I can also tell of times when lack of language wasn’t a barrier. (Music, food and alcohol seem to help.)
And that’s the point: what do we do when the lines of communication are down? How do we cope when language doesn’t bring connection? How do we say what we mean when speech carries no meaning?