The Universal Language

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I just returned from spending ten days in Italy. It was my first time there and I fell in love with both Venice and Tuscany, which were the two places we visited. My husband and I love to travel internationally – we strive to go someplace new outside the US at least once a year.

Our past few international trips have been to non-English speaking countries in Europe. There are definitely some challenges that come with this type of travel…. Trying to navigate through train stations in the smaller towns, order food (and know what you’re eating!), or even buy some wine, bread, and cheese in these small towns where very few people speak English. Along with the challenges there are also many differences, which is the primary reason we love to travel internationally. The culture, environment, architecture, feel and look of other countries (big cities and small towns) are very different from traveling to a new state or place I’ve never been inside the US. When I’m in another country, I know I’m far from home. I know I’m in another part of the world experiencing a drastically different culture when I go out for a run and am surrounded by landscaping and architecture that is thousands of years old and when people look at me and obviously think “there’s an American running….” (as they smoke their cigarettes and speak their beautiful language fluently). I am reminded that “yes, I am not in or near Virginia anymore”. When meals last hours and the general pace of the community is more leisurely, I definitely know I’m not near home! When I hear the chatter of a different language and only on occasion hear some English, I know I’m not near home. As much as hearing English (however rare it may be) feels comfortable and familiar, I mostly love listening to the rhythm and cadence of the foreign language in the countries I visit; language I desperately wish I could speak. It doesn’t matter where I am… France, Germany, Italy, Spain… I always want to be able to fluently speak the language of whatever country I visit. I want to be able to communicate with the people and understand the meaning behind the beauty they are speaking. If I found one language I was completely in love with I might just take the time to learn it; yet, I find I love them all.

Despite all the differences in language, culture, architecture, there are also some obvious similarities, which is another reason I love to travel internationally. These similarities are what my husband and I call “universal language”; it transcends countries and cultures. The Universal Language is the smiles and acknowledgments to and from others; it is the efforts of the humans we interact with and who interact with us to try to communicate. When I’m in another country I feel compelled to speak their language so this means I need to know the basics… how to say things like please, thank you, do you speak English? I don’t speak (Italian, German, French, Spanish). Where is the restroom? Etc. As much as I make the effort on my end, others also do their best to try to understand me and speak my language. In Italy there were more people apologizing to Matt and me for not speaking English than we’ve ever experienced before. We were in Italy! We should’ve been speaking their language, not the other way around! And, yet that compassion and desire to communicate and understand each other is part of the Universal Language. It’s the ability to make a connection without words. Of course, another aspect of this is the people who are willing to help with translation – the ones who do speak both the country’s native language and English. They always manage to show up at the right time. In all my international travel these people show up at the perfect time and are more than willing to help, provide information, guidance, and direction.

While we were in Italy, in a small town (Lucca) in Tuscany, Matt was in a small wine shop trying to communicate with the owner about which wines he wanted to purchase. The owner did not speak English. They were doing a lot of nodding and pointing when a gentleman from England walked into the store. He spoke both Italian and English so offered to help with translation. The shop owner said something in Italian and Matt immediately said, “we’re doing a pretty good job of communicating” and the English man said, (pointing to the shop owner) “that’s exactly what he just said”. So there you have it – the Universal language at work. It is one of kindness, compassion, and a desire to understand and assist each other, and, it occurs universally, without words spoken or needing to be understood. One of the many reasons I love to travel internationally!

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