Sunday, July 27, 2008

care for a drink (or perhaps I'm manufacturing a candle)

I took a domestic flight today. I have the worst luck when it comes to seating on planes. On the last flight I took, the creepy man across the aisle (sitting next to his wife) stared at me for a full hour and fifteen minutes or so from take off to landing. On the flight before that, I sat next to humming woman, who hummed at such a fast clip I was a wee bit stressed out.

On my flight today, I set next to Guatemalan travellers. They seemed like nice people, that is until someone came to serve drinks. Strangely, no flight attendant on this flight spoke Spanish (was I in a parallel universe?) and my new Guatemalan friends apparently spoke not a word of English. When the attendant made a gesture of pouring a can of Coke into a glass, the couple looked at her as if she were a Martian. I translated "she's asking if you'd like a drink" into Spanish. Then I got to experience the joy of communicating the intricacies of their drink needs, from ice preferences to types of juice. Once the drinks were served, I also got to translate "thank you," because these Guatemalans were travelling in an English-speaking country and apparently hadn't yet figured out how to say that either.

OK, so if these Guatemalan people are travelling outside of their home country, methinks they're not exactly poor. Shouldn't relatively wealthy people in that part of the world have some grasp of the English language, however tenuous?

But even if they truly have no grasp (as seemed to be the case), how hard is it really to understand the gesture of a can of Coke being poured into a glass? I've travelled through some pretty far-off places where none of the languages through which I can stumble are spoken, and somehow I've always managed to make basic actions understood - and understand the basic actions of others in return. Context always helps, and methinks it's quite normal for a flight attendant to offer one a drink.

Did they think maybe that she was trying to sell them a deserted island, or teach them how to make a nuclear bomb? Guatemala has now dropped a country or two on my "must visit" list -- a good thing for my alarmist parents' ability to sleep, since it consistently ranks among the top 5 countries in the world for homicides.


anml_lvr said...

My mom and I read your blog and love it.I have been on a plane to Florida when I was in the first grade.I'm now going into the eighth grade. I cannot speak Spanish, but I'm Italian. I can speak a few words and a sentence. That's not much considering my dads grandparents were Immigrants from Italy. Your story is funny.

Whiner Girl said...

Amen!! I wouldn't even think about going to a country without being able to at least mumble some sort of basics. Of course, I also don't understand people who *live* in a country that primarily speaks English and make no attempt to learn it. I am in no way screaming in the streets that English should be the official language in the USA ... what I am saying is that it would seem one would have a more fulfilling existence if communication were possible.

Mayne said...

Man, did you miss a chance to cause some real mischief and mayhem or what?

Your just too damn nice; succumbed to a sense of decentcy a long time ago - I guess.

She asked; "qué usted quieren poner en sus caras feas"

Then tell the FA 'They want nothing from you, until you wash your filthy hands!" and go back to your reading......

complain away said...

@Animal lover, thanks for your nice comment! I think it's great that you and your mom check out blogs together. I looked at your blog and think it's really smart. I especially like how you ask a question at the end of every post! The photos are great too.

@WG, ah yes, I know many people who came to North America about 40 years ago and speak about 5 words of English. To me, that's not just dumb, it's a sign of disrespect for the country you've chosen as your new homeland. Don't get me started.

@Emory, clearly, I'm not as mean (and twisted!) as you. I've travelled far too much to wish sketchy situations on other travellers. For stupid people I know who live here (see note about people who don't bother to learn English), I am with you all the way.