Not so secret language

Posted in Travel at 13:49 by RjZ

Wow! A request! Well, since you asked… (check out the comment from TimR)

I always wished I had some secret language to speak so I could talk about people behind their backs or maybe haggle better in a foreign country. Problem is, you just never know if people are in on your secret.

We arrived at the north shore in the early afternoon after a few hour journey by moped across the island of Bali in Indonesia. We were met by touts who pulled along side of our moped and attempted to escort us to their hotel while we were still putting along. Bali is a such a tiny island that riding from Ubud in the interior to the black beaches in the north isn’t all that daunting, but we were still tired from the heat and humidity so we were taking a few moments on our patio and chatting about plans for the next day.

Indonesia was the first trip my long time traveling partner and I had made to a really exotic place. We were living in Germany at the time and had been around Europe quite a bit, but this was the first time we’d been somewhere that might really offer some culture shock. Still a few weeks into it, other than the heat, we were getting the hang of finding nice, inexpensive backpacker places like this one.

There aren’t so many U.S. Americans traveling to Indonesia like we were simply because it’s so much further and more expensive for them than for Europeans. That might explain why our American accents stuck out so much to the two Germans sitting in their patio next to ours and gossiping about us—in
German, of course. I didn’t really hear them much but my partner informed me that they were complaining a bit about how Americans had arrived and the stereotypical ramifications that implies. (loud, inexperienced, demanding, loud…you get the idea.)

That evening we got acquainted with a couple of other hotel guests, two backpackers from Austria. Bargain hotels like this one often offer excellent ways to meet fellow travelers such as delicious community dinners. We sat down around a big round table with fellow guests chatting about what we’ve seen in Indonesia already and offering tips about what else is worth doing. It was all rather pleasant conversation, transpiring in German, since after all, four out of six people were German speakers and it just seemed polite.

That’s when it dawns on one of the German girls. She turned to my partner, very surprised, and asked slowly “Oh, do you speak German?” She was careful to ask in English, in spite of the 15 minutes of conversation preceding this question. My partner answered flatly, barely looking up from her food to eye her new German acquaintance: “All day” she said simply.

The two girls looked at each other, eyes wide, trying to hide their shock that those U.S. Americans (!), might actually be capable of another language. Stereotypes really aren’t such a bad place to start, but if you want to avoid embarrassment, please consider being more discreet about applying them. Or find a rarer language. Perhaps Faroeish–if you can pronounce it.

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