07 September 2009
Govorim zeno malo Slovensko!
Seriously...I do speak VERY little Slovene. But, I ALWAYS make an effort to learn some of the language of whatever country I visit. It isn't always easy. French, Italian, German and Japanese were a piece of cake compared to Irish, Czech, Polish, Slovak and now Slovene. I dread (from a learn-the-language perspective) visits to Turkey, Rajasthan, Bhutan and Hungary. Nonetheless, when it comes time to travel to the lands of the Magyars, Hittites and Rajas, or when I finally do set my eyes on the fabled Hidden Kingdom, you can be sure that I will also have a fist-full of phrases in the local patois. Why bother, some might ask? Three reasons, two pretty obvious and one, less apparent and more personal. Let's start with the obvious: First, I ascribe to the thought that my traveling is not a god-given right to see the world on my terms but rather a by-product of my natural curiosity to explore the world around me crossed with the fortunate set of circumstances that lead to my birth in an affluent country where such desires can be pursued. I am traveling not just as an American, but as a citizen of the world; an ambassador from my land to theirs. Would it not be the height of arrogant presumptiveness of ME to assume that those in Ljubljana speak English?! Locals really do appreciate if you make an effort to discourse (or at least ask a few questions) in their language. Not only may they be impressed (read: minor ego boost!), but more importantly, they may feel more inclined to communicate with you. Reason two (dva, as they say in Slovene): a bit of self-preservation. If I can ask, Where are the toilets, please? or Do you speak English? or Do you have red wine? travel-life can become so much satisfying, if not just plain survivable. Indeed, a base requirement for travels with Bonnie, is the obligatory "Moja žena vegetarianski." Can you imagine being a vegetarian and traveling to Germanic and (worse for her!) Slavic countries!? (Me, I eat everything, her...well, not so much.) An ambassador with self-preservation on his mind...not so difficult to understand, ja? Believe it or nay, I actually also enjoy learning other languages. (Learning…well, that perhaps may be a stretch of the verb. I don't speak fluently, but I try to speak with the proper accent and intonations. I also have difficulty understanding the natives' responses, but that's also partially a result of my creeping deafness!) I find language learning a (fun) challenge but importantly (pay attention here!)I also find it a way to gain a deeper understanding of the people and culture. Language, literature, history and geography: this is the four-legged stool upon which a greater understanding of a people sits. And, I like the view from this particular perch.