Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adventures in Flight: Say What?

Often, I hear from people who, after finding out what I do for a living, express an interest in becoming a flight attendant. I frequently hear someone say, “But I don't speak any other languages.” Well, I only speak English and Texan (which only means I tell a good tall tale), but speaking a foreign language is not a necessity for becoming a flight attendant. It helps, but is not required.

Languages fascinate me. I wish I'd learned another language when I was young, for now that I'm old, my brain is too feeble and lazy to pick anything up. I'm quite frustrated when flying to a foreign locale and ask how to say this or that and the language flight attendant tells me, and then half an hour later it is completely gone from my memory, even though I'd said the word 1000 times (did I mention I speak Texan?).

Every now and then I hear a language flight attendant speaking to a passenger and I pick up on a word that sounds so interesting. I'll ask, what was that word you said mean? “Solamente.” “Nosotros.” Such interesting sounding words, that in the whole sentence of what to me is gibberish stands out so well. Then I find these are such basic words, and mean “only”, and “us”.

I took 2 years of Spanish in middle school. That was a very long time ago and I recall so very the fact that I use that language so infrequently. I can pronounce words like a pro, and have several Spanish speaking friends who tell me they are quite impressed with my pronunciations. I just have no idea what I'm saying.

Maybe languages translated on the 
seatback monitors?
It can be rough working an international flight in coach and coming across passengers who do not speak English. On one such flight to Lima, Peru, I encountered a charming woman of small stature and a wide smile. I asked what she would like to drink, and from her mouth flowed all these words in rapid fire succession and not a single one could I understand. I apologized, as I leaned in, and asked if she could speak any English. The following words unintelligible to me provided the! And so many words flowed from her that fell on deaf ears. I looked for the nearest language speaker; far from me was he.

Fortunately for me, the woman next to her could translate. She wanted coffee and I did know enough to tell her, “Cafe un momento, por favor. Cafe con...dinner. Not now. Un momento.” The woman next to her filled in the blanks further and she understood; coffee would be served with the dinner, but not right now.

Later, when I reached her seat with the dinner, I asked if she would like pollo, or pasta. As if I had by magic maybe learned Spanish since we last spoke 20 minutes ago, she again went into a very long diatribe of words that had no meaning to me. I reminded her that I did not speak Spanish.

And this would happen every time I interacted with her. One thing I remember well from taking Spanish in school was “lo siento”, or, I am sorry. No habla Espanol.

She would roll her eyes, as if to say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot.” At least she smiled nicely at me. It must be difficult to travel in a world where you don't understand the language. Wait...I do that all the time. It is rough, but I've never been put out too much by not speaking the language, and today, with smart phone apps, it's getting easier.

There are two things I always say I wish my parents had done differently when I was very young and could easily learn things: I wish I'd taken piano lessons, and I wish I'd learned another language. It's so much more difficult to do those things when older. I'm just waiting for the day when Google creates a blue tooth contraption that one can wear that will translate languages in real time! (And, hey, Google, maybe you can call it the 'Penguin Translator'!)

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  1. I have wished that I kept up with the same things, piano and Spanish. Great story! I really like your writing style.

  2. Great idea about the translated on the seat screen. You really have something there.