Today I will share with you some of my own personal language experiences. Often funny, sometimes stressful, here is a compilation of why I wish I could speak every language, these are the joys of travelling.
First, there is one thing I need to tell you… The only languages I can speak are French and English (and the basics of German and Spanish). So you can imagine that when I arrived in the south of China in 2017, speaking became a real challenge…
The time I was served the foot of a pig
What would be your reaction when you thought you ordered a nice saucy dish, and instead you receive a jellied pigs foot, standing on your plate without sauce or garnish? You would be polite and try it, of course!. Even if you don’t eat much of it, you can still order something else, right? But what if this something else is also nothing like what you expected? Then you end up, like me, with an almost empty stomach.
How did this come to happen, you might wonder? I had been using an app on my phone to translate Chinese writing into English. And it works pretty well, most of the time. But sometimes, the translation doesn’t make any sense, and you have to make a decision with just a few translated words. That’s how pork and sauce became a pig foot standing in a plate.
Oh well, it’s nothing too bad, it is just food and an experience to laugh about now.
The time I couldn’t speak English in Australia
Imagine, you arrived in a place where you will spend the entire coming year, and when you first meet your new family (I was an Au Pair), you thought that your school-learned English would be good enough for a start. Big mistake! It would have worked if Australians did not have such an accent!
So it was my first day in Perth, and I was happy to meet everyone! But I could not understand a single word. Luckily for me, as I told you, I was an Au Pair and the kids are much easier to understand than the adults.
So I found my way through the Aussie accent and actually had a wonderful time in the end!
The time I thought they might speak English in China
Let’s come back to China for just a minute. After a certain number of tricky situations, you start paying careful attention to every detail, like if a restaurant has some English words on the signage.
As it turns out, this still doesn’t mean they will speak any English or there will be an English menu You quickly come to know that writing in English on the frontage is trendy in China, and it is more of a marketing tool to attract locals than an indication about the language they speak.
The time I wanted to ride a horse in Mongolia
Let’s move a few thousand kilometers North from China. Do you speak Mongolian? No? Me neither. Apparently, it’s an incredibly complex language to learn, and to be honest I didn’t even know a few words! But, nevertheless, I am in a yurt in the middle of Mongolia (somewhere around here). There is no internet and no dictionary, and our only neighbors are a Mongolian family. We knew that if we asked nicely we could go for a horse ride in the steppes. But how do you ask anything in Mongolian? I actually went on a horse ride in the end, but not before having to draw a horse on a piece of paper and to be honest, I was lucky they understood it was a horse…
The time my workmate asked to rape the carrots
This kind of misunderstanding can be pretty common in the professional world.
I was a chef for a while and was working in this restaurant in New Zealand. As you may know, in French to say “to grate” we use the verb “râper”. There is a trick that French speakers use when they speak English. If you don’t know a word, just try saying it in French but with an English accent. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t, especially when your French workmate wants to “rape the carrots”…
I’ll let you imagine how people would look at you. Joys of travelling….