Friday, April 09, 2010

Language Difficulties

I've mentioned before how I have problems remembering which fragments of language to speak in which country. For example, I asked for pineapple juice in Arabic in Colombia. Most of the time, I just launch into some kind of mash-up of European languages mixed with a lot of arm-waving and pointing. People feel sorry for me and try to understand.

But I really outdid myself yesterday morning.

I was walking to the train to work. There's a shopping mall between me and the PATH train, right next to the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel.

An older man with a ring of white hair and glasses stopped me. He definitely looked out of place with his shorts, knapsack, and comfortable shoes. He was probably a tourist staying in one of the nearby hotels. The JC hotels are popular with Europeans, who don't seem to mind having to commute one stop to Manhattan.

"Where is... toilet?"

"You have to go up the escalators and go up to the food court. Wait... francais?"

He nodded. Yep, a French tourist off-track between his hotel and Manhattan. I'd just answer him in his own language then.

"Aqui," I said, pointing just above to the food court restrooms.

Too polite to acknowledge that the stupid American had just answered him in Spanish, the Frenchman nodded and headed to the escalator.

And I walked to the PATH train, laughing at myself all the way.

1 comment:

Ed Ward said...

Hell, if he was from around here, he might not even recognize that as a mistake. There's a lot more mixing than you'd suspect around the border (I've had friends say that in Catalonia outside of Barcelona it's easier to get by in French than Spanish), and I read a book where it noted there are 12 different words for "yes" used in various regions of France.